Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to rise today in the House to speak on Motion M-331 moved by my colleague from Shefford. I would like to thank him sincerely for his work on this issue. I would also like to thank all my colleagues who support my colleague from Shefford.
The New Democrats have a clear position on affordable housing: it is absolutely essential to make affordable housing accessible for Canadian families. We are committed to implementing legislation to ensure that housing is adequate and accessible. This is what we are proposing today.
In Canada, the shortage of affordable housing is flagrant. In Quebec, for example, it is estimated that about 325,000 households have core housing needs. It is appalling that, at the present time, only 10% of all housing starts will provide rental housing. Given that housing is being lost at a greater rate than new housing is being built, the number of rental units offered by the private sector is shrinking every day.
Moreover, according to estimates by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, there will be an additional 50,000 rental households every year over the next decade. The low supply of suitable accommodation is increasing pressure on rents and making it more difficult to find affordable housing.
Some of my colleagues will of course prefer statistics and figures. So here are some that clearly show that the shortage of housing in Canada is critical. Of the households that cannot afford housing, 750,000 have children under the age of 15, 26% are single-parent families, 15% are immigrant families and 20% are aboriginal households.
In addition, nearly 1.5 million households in Canada cannot afford decent housing, which is totally unacceptable. Of this 1.5 million, 25.7% are single-parent families, 18.2% are immigrant families and 20.4% are aboriginal households. The situation is disturbing and now is the time to act.
The shortage of affordable rental housing forces renters into deplorable situations. In the vast majority of cases, if housing is affordable, it is in poor condition. It is also sometimes the case that, given the lack of options available to renters, they are faced with owners who take advantage of their circumstances. This is the situation we are currently seeing in the Montreal area.
Some owners neglect to maintain their units. For example, damage goes unrepaired, pest infestations go unresolved, and problems with mould are left untreated. Residents have their backs against the wall and have no option but to live in these conditions.
Canadian families should not have to live like this. Families in Quebec and in Canada deserve much better.
In the past, the federal government played a major role in the construction of social housing, particularly between 1967 and 1993. Thanks to the funding that was available during that period, many co-operatives and all the low-income housing units were built. It was the Mulroney government that made devastating cuts to that funding.
FRAPRU estimates that, if that funding had continued after 1993, there would be an additional 60,000 social housing units in Quebec alone. There are currently 1,120 low-cost housing units in Laval, 93 of which are located in my riding of Alfred-Pellan. Only 12 of those 93 units are set aside for families and the rest are reserved for seniors.
There are clearly not enough units, and it has come to the point where every week my riding office receives requests from my constituents for help in finding social housing. People are desperate. Some, like Ms. Galipeau, have been waiting for a place in social housing for nine years. Nine years.
The lack of social housing was underlined by my predecessor, who tabled many petitions, including one signed by 135 tenants of social housing asking for funding merely to renovate the low-income units and another one signed by 2,813 residents in Laval asking that the old Saint-Vincent-de-Paul prison be converted into social housing.
There is an urgent need for the government to deal with the social housing it has built. Many low-income housing properties are coming to the end of their agreement with the federal government. Low-income housing was built in partnership with the municipalities and the federal government. Tenants spend 25% of their income on rent, and the federal subsidy pays the remaining operating costs only until the mortgages are repaid. As a result of the expiring agreements, 85% of the social housing stock is facing radical rent increases. In addition, as we all know, once the first mortgage is repaid, major work on the buildings is often necessary. However, the federal government does not appear to be interested.
What is even more alarming is that some families are being forced into homelessness as a result of the housing shortage. In recent years, homelessness has persisted and increased in Canada, and an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 Canadians are currently homeless.
Contrary to what some would think, homelessness is also a problem in the Laval region, as the program Les Francs-Tireurs showed last March. I suggest that anyone who did not see it go to the Les Francs-Tireurs website and watch the episode on the homelessness problem in Laval. It is extremely relevant to this issue.
However, there is very little in the way of resources to assist homeless Canadians, and funding still appears unstable. Needs are growing, whether it be in Montreal, Laval, Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax or any other city in the country, but funding under the homelessness partnering strategy, the HPS, has not been indexed since 1999. In fact, the program will be expiring in 2014, and this government, the one opposite, is refusing to be clear and specific about its plans after 2014. Will this government abandon Canadians? I wonder.
The last budget, which the government brought down in March, does not offer even a glimmer of hope to families looking for housing. In fact, it announces a $10.2 million cut to CMHC's budget by 2014-15. There is also no provision for affordable housing and absolutely nothing about renewing social housing operating agreements.
In reaction to that budget, the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association indicated that a commitment to at least extend existing programs, such as the homelessness partnering strategy, would have been appropriate.
The right to housing is part of the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for good reason, as a number of my colleagues have already said.
This is also an issue that overly affects people who are already marginalized such as women, aboriginal populations, newcomers, people with disabilities, seniors, and many others.
Access to decent, affordable housing is a health and safety issue in Canada. The report entitled “Housing and Population Health”, by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, indicates clearly that the type of housing affects health. Renters have average health or, at least, their health is not as good as that of homeowners. The poor conditions that exist in some housing are one reason for this disparity, but the percentage of income spent on housing also has an impact, since it influences the ability to spend on other needs such as food, suitable clothing, health services and so forth.
I want to reiterate that I subscribe to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that access to suitable housing is a fundamental right, not a privilege. I urge the government to take this declaration seriously. Canadian families have the right to have a roof over their heads for their safety, health and survival.
I want to thank my colleague who took the initiative to move this motion and my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, who introduced Bill C-400 to ensure that Canadians have secure, adequate, accessible housing.
I invite the government to support this motion and our affordable housing initiatives because housing is a necessity, not a luxury. It is time to open a dialogue on this.