Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to talk about housing today since my riding, which is quite rural, has had critical housing needs for years.
In a number of communities, no social housing has been built since the end of the 1980s. Absolutely nothing has changed. Most of the existing housing is dwellings for people 55 and older, single people or older couples. In most small towns, the only affordable housing available is for seniors. There is nothing for families.
There are urban centres in the various RCMs of my riding that have benefited from some projects, but when I talk to mayors of those municipalities, they tell me that it is extremely difficult to get such projects off the ground because of all the requirements that need to be met. They tell me that sometimes it is so discouraging that they just feel like giving up.
Often the administrative requirements for social housing projects are exactly the same in rural areas regardless of the size of the projects. Whether we are talking about 200 dwellings in downtown Montreal or four dwellings in a small town like La Reine, Dupuy, or Saint Vital, the same requirements need to be met. Moreover, it often takes at least 24 dwellings to be entitled to funding. A municipality with a population of 300 would need to build 24 social housing units, which costs a few million dollars, just to be eligible for funding, when that does not in any way correspond to the municipality's needs or reality.
As long as we are going to keep the same requirements for everyone and not take into account Canada's demographic diversity, we are necessarily depriving several rural communities from funding for social housing. They are, however, the ones who need social housing the most since quite often they do not qualify for funding.
Furthermore, administrative requirements often push up the cost of a project, since the administrative fees to develop specifications, for example, are the same whether the project is to build four housing units or 24. When the cost has to be spread over just four units, the project can become very costly, because administrative requirements do not vary based on the project scope.
In addition, when the time comes to put together a project, it costs a lot of money to compile all the specifications and expert opinions needed to meet the standards, and that is without even knowing whether the funding will be granted. This represents a higher financial risk for municipalities. When a municipality spends $100,000 of its $800,000 budget, which is supposed to cover all municipal services, on a project that it cannot even be certain will be completed successfully, it is taking a massive financial risk. Large municipalities, in contrast, have multiple pending projects that they can put into a drawer, and when programs are announced, all they have to do is open the drawer and pick out the ones they want to submit. Everything has already been done.
Moreover, let us not forget that small communities do not have the same municipal resources as big cities. Cities have an engineering department, architects, urban planners and other professionals already working for them. In contrast, small municipalities have a town manager, a municipal secretary who rarely works full time, a municipal inspector and a day labourer to do all the snow clearing, lawn mowing and other maintenance. That is basically the entire team they have at their disposal.
Therefore, when the time comes to put together a social housing project and commission all these specifications, they have no choice but to turn to the private sector for their architect's drawings and engineering studies. This is extremely costly for them. They have no in-house resources to rely on.
It is important to understand what a challenge that is. At some point, the government will have to come up with a way to set requirements and manage projects at the administrative level in a way that takes into account the scope of the projects and the size of small municipalities.
In order to prevent big cities from always getting all the projects, it is important for a portion of the funding to be reserved for projects in municipalities with a population of less than 3,000. There must be funding set aside so that all of the money does not get taken by others. Otherwise, nothing will get built.
Many small municipalities are really frustrated. They need housing, but they do not know how to compete. The government has announced a lot of money for social housing, but we never know when it will be spent. We have just learned that 90% of the budget will be spent after the next election. Small municipalities that want to undertake a project will have to spend a lot of money planning it, without knowing whether this government will be re-elected. All that work might be for nothing if there is no funding available when it is time to carry out the project. This is a truly unacceptable way of managing things.
If the government is going to announce funding for housing, it should make the money available now. It should say that x amount of money is available and that there is a three-year window for submitting projects.
What it is doing right now is nothing but smoke and mirrors. The government is giving hope to people who may want to start projects, but we do not know what will happen. The election is an unknown quantity, so we cannot predict what will happen in two or three years. Who knows, maybe in two or three years, the government will announce that, just like electoral reform, the whole thing is too complicated, there are problems, we will have to wait again, yada yada yada.
Meanwhile, people continue to live in poverty and cannot get ahead. Children do not have access to anything, and their future will suffer. People are stuck in violent situations. In a number of indigenous communities, nothing has been built. In some cases, a woman experiencing domestic violence cannot just kick her husband out. If she were to do that, she would be kicking him out of the community because he would have nowhere else to live. Women are often too afraid because they say that they could not throw their husband into the street, since there are no other options. They end up giving in and staying in violent situations. The same goes if it is the woman who decides to leave, because the house is in her husband's name. She is not just leaving her home; she is leaving her community without knowing whether she will be able to find shelter elsewhere.
Housing is very expensive in Abitibi-Témiscamingue. There is a shortage of workers, and the housing shortage has been ongoing for 10 years. Nothing is happening. People are unable to pay their rent. They live in unhealthy conditions and are bullied by their landlords. People continue to believe that this is acceptable, that we can let people live like that and that these people are not important.
We have an opportunity to grow the rural economy in regions like mine. There is huge potential, but we are currently unable to grow this economy because we cannot house the people that could contribute to it. We cannot send workers there, even though there are jobs available and businesses are closing their doors because of the labour shortage. I find it difficult to understand how the government can say that they are going to invest this money in the next term of office when there are glaring needs now.
We know very well that the housing is not going to magically appear the moment the money is allocated. It has to be built, and we have to find the people to do it. Projects do not get built overnight.
Right now, what the government is doing is compromising the future childhoods of children who are yet to be born. In the small towns that I spoke about, the last time low-income housing units were built was when I was about five years old. The government is undermining these people's entire childhoods and teenage years. They will not see any investments in housing until they are grown up. I think that is unacceptable.
It is also important to understand that not having anywhere to live or spending 75% of one's income on housing causes a lot of other problems. It is unfortunate, but the adage about having to spend money to make money is true. If people are spending 75% of their income on housing, they will not have any money left over to pay for a car that will help them to earn a better salary and a better income. They need a car because they have no other way of getting to work.
There is no public transportation because there are not enough riders. It is extremely important to understand that housing is an immediate need, and I sincerely hope that the government will take into account my region's needs. It is high time that the members opposite woke up.