Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today about Motion M-331, which was moved by the hon. member for Shefford, concerning the right to housing and the fight against homelessness. I would like to commend him for his work on this issue.
Since this is a short motion, I would like to read it in order to make sure that the people watching know what we are talking about. It states:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) keep with Canada’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to housing under the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; (b) support efforts by Canadian municipalities to combat homelessness; and (c) adopt measures to expand the stock of affordable rental housing, with a view to providing economic benefits to local housing construction businesses.
Access to housing is a problematic situation across Canada. According to the CMHC's most complete data, in 2008, 13% of urban households had core housing needs. Households have core housing needs if their housing is unacceptable because of its quality, size or price. The CMHC found that 1.3 million Canadians in urban centres live in poor-quality housing, housing that is too costly or housing that is too small for the number of family members.
As one may imagine, low-income families, single-parent families and persons living alone are the ones most likely to be facing core housing needs.
According to the Observatoire Grand Montréal of the Montreal metropolitan community, 21.8% of rental households in greater Montreal have core housing needs; 49,945 are households with minor children and 23,685 are households in which the primary financial support is a recent immigrant.
According to the 2006 census, of the 706,619 rental households in the Montreal metropolitan community, 126,580 must spend more than half of their income on housing rather than on other basic needs, such as medication, food and transportation. In the past 10 years, the average rental cost of a two-bedroom home has increased 38% in the greater Montreal area.
Despite relative prosperity, the situation in the northern ring of Montreal is a concern as the growing population there is putting pressure on housing availability and prices. In the town of Saint-Eustache, for example, 23.2% of households have core housing needs.
I recently commissioned a survey from Segma Recherche to get a clearer idea of the priorities of people in the riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles. One thousand people were surveyed there in March, and the figures from that survey are consistent with the Observatoire Grand Montréal’s data.
In Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, 25% of tenants say they have been forced to cut spending on food or medication in order to pay rent in the past year. One in four individuals is paying too much for housing.
Housing accounts for more than half the disposable income of some households. As that cost cannot be reduced, other basic needs are not being met.
In view of this disastrous housing situation in Canada, it is not surprising that in May 2006, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights described the situation as a national emergency and demanded that Canada meet its international obligations respecting the right to housing. Little meaningful investment has been made since then.
The latest Conservative budget contains no satisfactory measures to address the problems of homelessness and housing. On the contrary, the government is making matters worse by cutting CMHC's budget by $102 million by 2014-15.
The government has also refused to increase its investments in housing and homelessness, which, in real dollar terms, are at their lowest level in 10 years, as they have not increased during that period.
The Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain condemned the housing provisions of the last budget as follows:
...Over the next two years, Ottawa will continue to allocate a total of only $250 million a year to all provinces and territories, including $57.7 million to Quebec, for all of their affordable housing construction and renovation programs...in addition, the budget earmarked to fight homelessness will remain frozen for another two years at $134.8 million, despite the growing number of homeless people in Canada and Quebec.
Similarly, Bruce Pearce of the Canadian Housing & Renewal Association said:
The 2012 federal budget outlines no plans to invest in affordable housing or in measures to end homelessness.
...we are disappointed that this budget was effectively silent on affordable housing because so many needs remain.
The Réseau d'aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal and the people helped by that organization were among the big victims of the most recent budget. I simply cannot understand how the Conservative government could have denied RAPSIM a subsidy, when that organization does such remarkable work with the poorest of the poor.
I would remind the House that RAPSIM has been receiving financial support from Ottawa for several years now as part of the homelessness partnering strategy. Federal support for RAPSIM was supposed to help safeguard rooming houses and encourage stakeholders to work together on issues like access to services for homeless people.
The NDP has studied the housing problem very thoroughly and has proposed real solutions over the years. While waiting lists for affordable housing continue to grow, which is completely unacceptable, we think it is crucial that Canada have a national housing policy to ensure that the federal government contributes to the construction of new housing, which it has not done since the 1990s. This is unacceptable.
In February, the NDP again presented a Canadian housing strategy. It is time the federal government made substantial investments in social housing and affordable housing. Canada is in fact the only G8 country in the industrialized world that does not have a national housing strategy. I say investment, because funding for social housing creates jobs and reduces the social costs associated with poverty.
The objective of the NDP’s bill is to develop an effective affordable housing program by requiring that the federal government hold consultations with organizations that work in the field of housing, aboriginal communities, and provincial, territorial and municipal governments. The NDP is also committed to restoring funding for homeowners under the residential rehabilitation assistance program and the affordable housing initiative.
As well, with the cost of living and the need to address homelessness constantly rising, funding for the homelessness partnering strategy has never been increased or even indexed since it was created early in the last decade. It is high time the government lightened the load on community organizations that assist people who are homeless.
We must remember that there are currently 300,000 people without homes in Canada. The NDP supports the Réseau SOLIDARITÉ Itinérance du Québec, which is calling on the Prime Minister's government to increase funding for the HPS to $50 million in Quebec and to make that funding available starting in 2015.
I would like to conclude by saluting the extraordinary work done by the Association de promotion et d'éducation en logement de Saint-Eustache. APEL is a community organization dedicated to doing advocacy work for tenants, educating, and developing social housing in the Deux-Montagnes RCM and the southern part of the Mirabel RCM. APEL has a broad network of partners and receives support from, among others, Centraide Laurentides and the Government of Quebec’s Secrétariat à l'action communautaire autonome et aux initiatives sociales.
If the Conservative government listened more to communities and community groups like APEL, it would realize that access to safe, affordable housing comes well ahead of F-35s, gazebos and the minister’s $16 orange juice on the public’s list of priorities.
The housing shortage affects the health and well-being of tens of thousands of families. We have to remember that investing in housing creates jobs that stay in the communities. It is time the government took action.
I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his work on this issue.