Mr. Speaker, I am truly honoured to rise to speak to the motion moved by my colleague from Saskatoon West that we are debating here today.
When I was named the housing critic for the NDP, a role I performed for several years, I launched a campaign called A Roof, A Right, which took me all across Canada. The title was carefully chosen; words matter. There is no doubt in my mind that housing is a fundamental right and should be treated as such.
In 1976, Canada ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, or ICESCR, which obliges nations to recognize housing as a right.
The problem is that, under Canadian law, for an international treaty to be justiciable and actually enforceable in Canada, we have to pass legislation here in the House.
Here we are more than 40 years later, and unfortunately there is no Canadian legislation that formally recognizes every individual's right to housing.
In order to meet its international obligations, the federal government has a responsibility not only to incorporate the right to housing into the Canadian Human Rights Act, but also to implement the necessary measures to ensure that the fundamental right to housing is fully realized.
The current housing situation in Canada clearly shows that since the ICESCR was ratified, successive governments never took the steps required to eliminate the obstacles preventing the full implementation of that basic right.
We have been hearing for years about the housing crisis in Canada. Rising rents, a shortage of rental housing units, the lack of federal government funding for social housing, too many families spending over 30% of their income on housing and increasing homelessness are only a few examples of the causes and consequences of that crisis.
According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, CMHC, housing is considered affordable if it represents 30% or less of a household's income. Households that spend more on housing are considered to be in core housing need.
According to the 2016 National Household Survey, 24% of households spend more than 30% of their total income on housing costs. That is one in four Canadian households. Of Canadian households that are renters 40% spend over 30% of their income on rent.
This means that households in core housing need are too often forced to choose which basic needs they will meet.
In a wealthy country like ours, no one should have to choose between buying groceries and paying rent.
The purpose of this motion is to correct this situation and to obtain strong support from the House to ensure that the government meets its international commitments.
A few months ago, the government announced its national housing strategy with great fanfare. The fundamental problem with the strategy is that, as usual, the Liberals are not following through on their promises. I am not casting doubt on the housing minister's goodwill, but he probably needs to talk to the Minister of Finance. When the Minister of Finance announced the funding that would be invested in social infrastructure, including housing, he postponed 90% of those investments until the final year of this government's term.
Despite the urgent and long-standing need for housing, the government thinks it is a good idea to withhold 90% of the money that is supposed to go towards improving living conditions for Canadian families and maybe starting to meet our international commitments. Why is the government withholding this money? Is it so it can be offered up in 2019 as a kind of pre-election treat? That is simply shameful.
That is not all. The vast majority of the funding announced largely depends on increased collaboration with our provincial and territorial partners. Funding that would come from the provinces and the private sector was even included in the national housing strategy, but without their consent.
How long will it take for families affected by the housing crisis to finally see any of this money?
With this motion, we are calling on the government to bring forward 50% of the federal funding allocated to the national housing strategy before the next election and to invest that money in the following: housing for indigenous communities; the construction of new affordable housing, new social housing units and new co-op units; a plan to end homelessness; the renovation of existing social housing and old housing stock; the expansion of rent supplements; and the administration of programs that meet the special needs of seniors and persons with reduced mobility.
I will now elaborate on a few of these calls for action. The housing situation in indigenous communities could not be more dire, and federal authorities, which have full authority in this area and fiduciary obligations towards indigenous peoples, are aware of this.
I am not making it up when I say that the federal authorities are aware of the situation. As proof, I offer the response to a request for information submitted to the government by my colleague from Timmins—James Bay about the infrastructure needs of first nations. Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada had this to say about housing conditions:
According to a needs assessment study based on the National Household Survey 2006, the housing shortage on reserve is expected to rise to approximately 115,000 units by 2031. Data from the 2009-2011 National Assessment of First Nations Water and Wastewater Systems indicates that 20,000 units need to be built on reserve in order to reduce the average number of persons by household to four people per home (on-reserve average), and 81,000 houses are needed to reduce it to the 2.5 Canadian average. Moreover, as of 2011, almost 41% of households on reserve are dwellings in need of major repair and mould or mildew has been reported in 51% of units.
That is what the government said.
Although departmental officials were aware of this situation, the government decided to fund the construction of only 300 new housing units per year in 2016 and 2017, which is only 3% of what is necessary. Moreover, if we take into consideration the fact that the housing shortage will rise to over 115,000 units over the next 15 years, it becomes very clear that the government will have to do a lot more to meet housing needs in indigenous communities and ensure that they too have the right to housing.
We are also calling on the government to invest in the construction of new affordable housing, social housing and co-operative housing units, as well as in the renovation of existing social housing and old housing stock. This is probably not the first time that members have heard me talk about this, because it has been my pet issue for a number of years now. However, it seems I need to repeat myself.
Until the federal government withdrew from the social housing sector in 1994, nearly 650,000 social housing units were built in Canada under long-term agreements with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Those agreements, effective for 25 to 50 years, made it possible for social housing providers to give rent subsidies so that tenants did not have to spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Hundreds of these agreements have gradually been expiring over the past decade or so. From 2006 to 2013, over 45,000 social housing units were affected by the expiry of agreements, and that has had an obvious impact on poorer families. Just last year, the number of households affected climbed to 140,000.
Despite all that, the government is still making us wait before it reinvests in social housing. We do have to give the current government some credit for allocating temporary amounts to address the expiry of agreements, but what about the penny-pinching that has been going on since 2006?
In the meantime, Carole Parent, who has been living in a co-op in my riding of Hochelaga for 25 years, used to pay $175 a month for housing, which was about 25% of her income. Her co-op's long-term operating agreement expired a few years ago, and as a result, her rent jumped to $306 a month, which is an increase of nearly 75%. This is certainly less than what each member of this House pays for housing, but Ms. Parent has severe employment constraints. She cannot work and lives on social solidarity benefits.
There is an election campaign going on in Quebec, and some people have claimed that a family could buy groceries for $75 a week. After Ms. Parent pays her rent and bills, she does not even have $75 a month left for groceries.
She is not the only one in this situation, and it is only getting worse. I could have given a 20-minute speech, and I still would not have had enough time to say everything I wanted to say.
I will end on that note. Like many speakers today, I was happy that the government was willing to implement a housing strategy, but reality quickly set in. The government must put its money where its mouth is and take action now. I hope it will finally listen to reason and vote in favour of this motion.