In 2013, between 150,000 and 300,000 people are living on the streets in Canada, and another 2 million suffer from food insecurity. According to the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, 4 million Canadians, 750,000 of them children, are coping with pressing housing needs. The situation is particularly worrisome in aboriginal communities. I saw this first-hand when I went to visit Attawapiskat. Over-crowding and substandard housing are posing significant sanitary and social risks.
It is hard to create a healthy environment for children to grow up in when eight people are living in a house built for four. In a supposedly rich and developed country like Canada, this situation is pretty dismal. The fact that millions of Canadians—mainly women, children, aboriginal people, seniors and new Canadians—are having a hard time meeting such a basic need as housing is sad and shocking. A home is so much more than a roof and four walls.
Having adequate housing makes it easier to find employment, promotes family integration and helps improve self-esteem.
In the Ottawa-Gatineau region alone, nearly 12,000 families are waiting for social housing. The wait can sometimes be up to eight years. And that does not seem to be improving. With the cost of living going up and wages stagnating, Canadian families are increasingly having a hard time making ends meet and finding adequate housing. When they do manage to find housing, they must sometimes make sacrifices elsewhere, to their food budget, for example.
Every month, 900,000 Canadians use food banks. This is a 31% increase over 2008 levels. I bring up the issue of hunger in Canada because it is closely linked to housing. When someone on a low income has to pay a high rent, there is less money remaining to put food on the table. A single mother earning minimum wage has a hard time finding adequate housing at market prices in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver, for example. Some manage to do so, but they must sometimes choose between paying rent and putting food on the table. Some spend up to 70% of their income on rent, which leave very little to spend on children's clothing or school supplies.
That is one of the reasons why the House must pass this bill. To effectively combat poverty, we must tackle the access to housing problem head-on. It is high time for Canada to implement a national housing strategy, as proposed in the bill from my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot. Canada is currently the only G8 country that does not have a national housing strategy.
It is unacceptable for us to socially and economically abandon millions of Canadians on the side of the road. As the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities said:
Chronic homelessness and lack of affordable housing are not just social issues; they are core economic issues. They strain the limited resources of municipal governments and undermine the economic well-being of our cities-the engines of national economic growth, competitiveness and productivity.
The federation, which represents 2,000 Canadian cities, has clearly indicated that every dollar invested in housing creates a $1.40 increase in GDP. It is a win-win situation.
This is true from a social and economic viewpoint, but also an international one.
Canada is a signatory to the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and has international obligations with respect to housing.
In a report on housing, the United Nations singled out Canada for its delay in meeting its obligations concerning social housing and fighting homelessness.
A national housing strategy would allow Canada to send a clear message to the UN and all its G8 partners.
We have to do more than just make an investment in order to fulfill our obligations and to deal effectively with the problem of access to housing. We have to make an intelligent investment based on a national strategy that will take into account the specific needs of our communities.
If Bill C-400 is passed, and I hope it will be, the minister responsible for CMHC will have to develop a strategy in co-operation with the provinces, municipal representatives, aboriginal communities, providers of housing and concerned civil society organizations.
We need leadership from the federal government on this issue, but above all we need the government to work together with the stakeholders concerned.
The Conservative government has already shown, in the health file for example, that it is not very open to working with the provinces.
That must change if it wants to find lasting solutions to problems such as access to housing.