Mr. Speaker, today, I am truly pleased to support the motion of my colleague from Shefford, and I thank him very much for introducing his bill on affordable housing.
The motion clearly indicates the social and economic aspects of rental housing and articulates a vision for housing in Canada. The motion addresses a matter that is a national emergency, and it is vital that we advocate for rental housing in Canada.
First, I would like to make you aware of a reality that is unfamiliar to many, but one faced by many Canadians every day. Access to affordable rental housing must also be considered from the viewpoint of people with disabilities. Finding rental housing suited to their needs is a difficult task.
Housing is of vital importance for people with disabilities because it gives them the autonomy and independence needed to believe in themselves, knowing that they are valued and accepting their qualities and their limitations. It helps them appreciate and accept themselves for who they are.
Housing also fosters full participation in the community. People with disabilities cannot live wherever they want. Some neighbourhoods simply do not have suitable rental housing. These people find themselves constrained by the fact that they have to find housing close to their place of work, which limits their options and often forces them to pay much higher rent.
I had a great deal of difficulty finding housing that met my needs in close proximity to Parliament, in Gatineau. I needed an entrance that was easily accessible and, above all, a bathroom that could accommodate a wheelchair, not to mention the fact that most buildings do not have elevators.
You will realize, Mr. Speaker, that I quickly abandoned the idea of having an affordable place to live just a few minutes from Parliament. I can assure you that I quickly realized that there are very few areas that have truly accessible housing that is affordable, and where people with functional limitations can live.
A person living with functional limitations must basically, out of necessity, have criteria not just for the layout and accessibility of the building but also for their safety. I am not talking about one or two criteria, but of many criteria.
I would like to mention a few of them.
To begin with, parking lots must be accessible and well lit. Imagine getting out of a car into a wheelchair and standing on ice in an unlit area: it is dreadful.
Moreover, very few landlords want to widen access at entries and doors. And too often, it is impossible to move around in the common areas. I am not asking for access to balconies because that would be a real luxury for disabled people.
Building access ramps should also be a prerequisite in many cases. Improving the flooring by removing carpets and installing simple linoleum costs money and few landlords are prepared to pay the price—imagine what a carpet is like when you come inside with snow-covered wheels; it is awful.
Adaptive bathrooms that make it easy to move about and access the shower and bath are also very rare. Sometimes, it turns into an acrobatic feat for people using wheelchairs.
Finally, to guarantee real autonomy, there must be access to switches and taps and to windows so that they can be opened in the summer.
That is a list of features required to adapt housing to the special needs of a person living with a functional limitation.
It is clear when adaptive housing is adequate, because the abilities of the disabled person are matched to the characteristics of the housing to ensure full autonomy.
Unfortunately, this kind of match is all too rare, and I have experienced this myself on many occasions.
The list is long and the obstacles to carrying out work on an apartment block are also numerous. You can imagine therefore just how rare it is for rental housing to meet all these criteria because each individual has specific needs, and expecting this kind of housing to be affordable is almost inconceivable.
I hope that this brief overview of what it is like for people living with a functional limitation to reside in rental housing has demonstrated just how vulnerable Canadian households can be in these situations.
Yet, housing is a human right. And this government's negligence is not without consequences for the welfare of Canadians, especially since Canada has a legal obligation in this regard, whether the government likes it or not.
Canada is a signatory to the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognizes the right to adequate housing. It is very unfortunate that the government does not approach the issue of housing and poverty from a rights perspective.
Genuine equality of access to rental housing has to be promoted. To achieve that, there has to be a better balance between the supply of housing and the demand, and location must also into account. We are looking at an extremely disturbing situation, where one-third of Canadians are renters but rental housing accounts for only 10% of total housing construction. This is unprecedented in Canada, in fact, because the number of rental units declined between 2001 and 2006.
Rental housing construction carries benefits for many segments of the population. And yet Canadian households are facing high rents because of tight supply, which makes finding affordable housing increasingly difficult for many households. This is an issue that affects households across the country, regardless of the region where they live or whether they are in big cities or small towns.
This is a financial choice made by young families, newcomers, the aging population and young people. We have to make sure that we continue to offer them this choice, because they are entitled to make it. Homelessness should not be one of their choices, but it is unfortunately widespread in spite of everything. As well, organizations working to combat homelessness are not receiving the support they need from the government, and this is undermining the effectiveness of their work. That is the situation for the Réseau d'aide pour les personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal, for example, which was recently denied support from the federal government to fund a project that would cost barely $80,000 over two years. That is nowhere near the $16 that a glass of orange juice costs, in any event.
This is happening at the same time as homelessness is on the rise in Quebec. The government has to shoulder its responsibility for helping individuals and families. Support for renter households is also particularly crucial in economic terms. Renter households have lower than average incomes and must have access to affordable housing. When households spend less on rent, they are able to buy more consumer goods—necessary goods like clothing, food and electricity.
An adequate supply of affordable rental housing also facilitates labour force mobility. This is an important economic stimulus. It is therefore essential that we have available a larger supply of affordable, better-quality housing in Canada, to give full effect to the right to housing.
Supply is simply not meeting demand, particularly when we consider the predictions made regarding demand in the next decade. It is estimated that there will be about 50,000 new renter households per year over the coming decade. If nothing is done, we will have to anticipate the worst. Homelessness is a threat that too many people in this country unfortunately live under. The government has a role to play when it comes to encouraging rental housing across Canada.
It must work with the municipalities to do that. It must also recognize that housing is an economic incentive. Our economic growth depends on expanding the rental housing market and also on more jobs in the construction industry. Cutting jobs in that industry is extremely harmful to our economy.
Because of the shortage of rental housing units, the government should take a leadership role and work alongside stakeholders in the rental housing community, including the municipalities. The government needs to understand just how bad the problems of housing and poverty are in this country. The government has an obligation to implement the policies necessary to promote affordable rental housing.
I therefore urge the government to recognize the need to increase the supply of rental housing units in Canada while maintaining the current housing units. The government must take steps to ensure that the right to housing is fully respected in Canada. I thank my colleague from Shefford along with all my colleagues who are going to support this motion.