Mr. Speaker, once again, I am disappointed with the budget the government has presented.
I thought that in an election year, the Conservative government might throw people who are less fortunate a bone to try to win their votes. However, much to my dismay, the 2015-16 budget offers them nothing. In reality, I am not surprised. Those people are not the Conservatives' target demographic.
Again today, I am going to talk about issues that are very important to me and were overlooked in the budget: housing and homelessness.
I want to set the record straight right away on the fight against homelessness. The word “homelessness” appears only three times in Canada's economic action plan for 2015, and in all three cases, the budget refers to announcements that have already been made. The Conservatives are just repeating old announcements that were made two years ago and were not even good news then.
The first mention is to remind Canadians that in 2013, the government renewed only part of the funding for homelessness. Personally, if I had made cuts to an already insufficient amount of funding two years ago, I would not remind everyone of what I had done. The other two instances where the word “homelessness” appears remind Canadians that the government unilaterally changed the way the homelessness partnering strategy works, to focus on the housing first approach.
Since this approach was adopted at the time of the last call for proposals, it has become clear that directing all the funding to one area has had serious consequences: many groups that provide front-line services are realizing that they will no longer be eligible for funding that they have been receiving for years now.
Many essential services provided to the homeless through a variety of approaches, including prevention measures, are simply disappearing. How short-sighted this government is being. It would have been better if the Minister of Finance had said nothing at all, rather than rubbing salt in the wound.
I would now like to shift the discussion to housing, a subject that is extremely important to the NDP, although clearly, it is not something that the Conservatives put much thought into.
Through some accounting gymnastics and by manipulating numbers and language, the Minister of Finance tried to make it look like he was actually following through on what the NDP has been calling for for years, implying he would stop cuts to social housing when the long-term agreements between social housing providers and CMHC expire.
Let us set the record straight: no new funding for social housing has been announced, beyond what had already been invested in previous years, and I think the budget has even been cut. I will come back to that in a bit.
The budget plays with words and throws numbers around to create confusion among housing groups. However, some of those groups are beginning to realize the extent of the trickery and have contacted my office to confirm their fears.
In addition, as recently as last Friday, FRAPRU used social media to send the message that contrary to what most people thought they read in the federal budget presented last Tuesday, there are no new investments to maintain the $1.7 billion in funding in the long term. This funding helps subsidize 568,600 social housing units in Canada, including 125,500 in Quebec. I cannot believe a Canadian government would stoop so low.
The estimates in table 4.2.1 of the budget speak for themselves. The only new amount is $150 million in relief over four years to allow co-operative and non-profit social housing providers to prepay long-term, non-renewable mortgages held with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation without penalty. Many of those mortgages were taken out at interest rates in the neighbourhood of 20%. This will enable providers to undertake necessary renovations or help their lowest-income tenants.
This ministerial decision too is at least two years old. I supported the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada's call for this and hounded the ministers about it a few years ago. Finally those groups were successful.
Imagine this: when a social housing provider wanted to negotiate a mortgage with a credit union, for example, at the best interest rate on the market, CMHC forced them to pay a penalty equalling the total residual interest, which was a huge sum of money.
The $150 million the government is offering to help groups get out of their mortgages without paying that penalty was framed as an investment, but I think it is actually a cut.
When the minister made that decision several years ago, no cap was set.
Now, we are talking about a maximum of $150 million over four years, which will not be available for another year and will be broken down as follows: $50 million in 2016-17, $50 million in 2017-18, $25 million 2018-19, and $25 million in 2019-20.
What happens if this is not enough money to help all the social housing groups that want to break their mortgage with CMHC without paying the penalty? As I was saying, there never used to be a limit. Now, there will be a maximum of $50 million for the next two years and a maximum of $25 million for the following two years. This seems more like funding cuts than new funding.
There is tremendous need for housing across the country. Twenty-five years from now, the $1.7 billion allocated to social housing will have completely disappeared. The 570,000 social housing units and as many families currently receiving federal funding might end up in hot water. What is more, according to the most conservative estimates, more than 300,000 housing units are in jeopardy in Canada.
I have a few tangible examples of the repercussions of the Conservatives' inaction on social housing. In my riding, Hochelaga, Carole Parent, a resident of the Odyssée housing co-operative, whose long-term agreement is ending in the next few months, will see her currently affordable rent go up by $200 a month. Ms. Parent is unable to hold a job because of her physical condition, and she cannot afford to pay this new rent. What is she to do?
What do the Conservatives have to offer other people across Canada who, like Ms. Parent, will no longer be able to pay their rent when their social housing provider is no longer able to subsidize them and will have to increase the rent?
I have another example, but this time in Ontario. In 2013, the executive director of the Native People of Sudbury Development Corporation came to me to testify about a situation that occurred in his community. That October, two Sudbury families had to move out of their apartments because their rent had jumped from less than $400 a month to more than $900 a month. The housing provider had to rent the apartments at market price in order to pay the bills. That meant the loss of two more social housing units.
Those are just a few examples of what is happening right now, and the worst is yet to come.
The government continues to repeat the same scripted lines to the effect that their budget is a good thing for those less well off. Instead of announcing measures that will only benefit a small part of the population, Canada's rich, the federal government could easily help low-income families and make life more affordable for the middle class by ensuring that housing is actually affordable in Canada.
Investing in social housing by spending the amounts saved when the long-term agreements expired on maintaining rent subsidies for families in need, helping social housing providers pay for renovations and contributing to the construction of new units would at least be a start that would not affect the current budget.
When we, the NDP, win the next election and form the Government of Canada, we will work with the provinces, territories, municipalities, first nations, housing providers and groups in civil society to achieve that goal. We have to ensure that everyone has adequate, affordable and sustainable housing.
Housing is an important determinant of health. Money spent on housing is an economic and social investment. In the medium term, it would reduce government spending on health, public safety and justice. Truly affordable housing where tenants and owners would not have to spend more than 30% of their income on shelter would allow them to invest in other sectors of the economy by buying better quality food or a public transit pass to go to work, or by investing in their children's education.
Canada is a party to international treaties recognizing that housing is a right. We must now put words into action. Cities and communities across Canada need the federal government to be a stable and long-term partner in housing.