Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Sherbrooke.
I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the issue of housing. It is one of the most fundamental issues and should be a preoccupation of government.
If people do not have a warm and safe place to sleep at the end of the day, if they do not have a place where people can contact them by mail, it is hard for them to do anything else in life. It is hard to get a job. It is hard to spend the day doing anything else other than trying to ensure at the end of that day they will have a place where they can manage to get through the night and try again the next day.
Housing really is the catalyst for people getting back on their feet and getting started. It sounds like something really obvious to say. I feel kind of funny saying that. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have good housing, when we think of it we say of course. The fact is that millions of Canadians are not properly housed, cannot afford to take that for granted and wish they could feel that was an obvious statement. However, for them, it is not.
The point of today's motion is to try to give a kick-start to the government, which has announced a national housing strategy. We have heard a lot of numbers over the last number of years, but we have not seen the results. Therefore, we are impatient. I am not ashamed to say that. Canadians who are living without proper housing are impatient to be housed properly. The fact is that we are not doing enough quickly enough to ensure it happens.
This is about trying to have firm targets for an amount of units to be built. We are calling for 250,000 units built in the next five years and 500,000 over the next 10 years in order to get those Canadians housed and back on track.
That is why the NDP have been advocates in this place, like many other people in civil society, for a right to housing and to take a rights-based approach to housing. It is as important as anything else in anybody's life. Our political rights are very important, but they do not mean a lot if we do not have a place to sleep, particularly not in the kind of weather we have had in Ottawa this week and that we have had back home in Winnipeg, where temperatures have been -40°C to -50°C. If people do not have a warm place to go at night, their other rights do not matter than much.
When one of my colleagues from B.C. had a private member's bill in the House that would bring in that rights-based approach to housing, I heard the parliamentary secretary, who has been up many times today, say that we did not need judges deciding where to build housing and everything else. The nicest way I can describe that kind of argument is “facetious”. No one has ever pretended that judges should be building affordable housing.
However, we think that where governments repeatedly fail, as the federal government has for 25 years, to make the kinds of investments that need to be made to ensure Canadians can be decently housed, there should be some kind of remedial action that goes outside the politics of this place, where Canadians can get a fair hearing and governments can be compelled to do the right thing.
That is why we are quite proud to support a right to housing. We were disappointed when other parties in the chamber did not support us in that endeavour.
When we talk about housing and the crisis happening right now with respect to it, there are a number of different facets to that. One is the problem of homelessness, and that is a serious problem right now in Winnipeg. We have a number of different shelters that have been set up over the years and in times especially like this, they are operating at capacity.
I want to commend the work of 1JustCity for setting up the emergency shelter Just a Warm Sleep. I have to give a shout-out for my younger sister Tessa who was involved in getting that up and off the ground. However, one thing Tessa told me was this. Of the people who we sleeping at Just a Warm Sleep, a small shelter with about 25 beds, a handful of those people were working full time and came to the warming centre at night because they could not afford an adequate place to live, despite working full time. That is because there are not enough affordable spaces.
It gives us a sense of what is going on in the Winnipeg housing market when we know that people who are working full time are having to go to shelters at night in order to have a good place to sleep. This is a real problem, and it affects people from all different walks of life and in different employment situations.
I will talk about the Columbus Centennial Seniors Housing Co-op in my riding. There were a lot of promises made by the Liberal government in the election, so we were looking for some leadership and answers for this co-op on two fronts. The Columbus housing co-op has faced a lot of problems because it is situated on a riverbank that is eroding, and residents are fearful for the integrity of the building over time. They have not had a great response from the municipal or provincial governments.
However, if there is significant new money for housing, and the Liberals have said they want to provide that and help fix up places, the irony for these people is that if their roof were leaking and that was jeopardizing the building, they might be able to access funds, but the fact of the matter is that it is riverbank erosion that is threatening their building.
There are 35 rent-geared-to-income units in that building that we should all be concerned to keep, because we are not going to make gains in terms of more social housing if we do not preserve what we already have. However, because of their unique situation, they are falling through the cracks.
I have asked various levels of government, including the federal government, to give consideration to the idea that they be able to access the renovation fund in order to do riverbank work, not just work on the roof itself, in order to preserve those units. So far we have not been able to achieve that, which is a disappointment for them.
The other disappointment for them is that they are one of those housing co-ops whose rent-geared-to-income units, or social units, or affordable units, whatever one wants to call them, are tied to federal funding that is tied to their mortgage. Their mortgage is set to mature in several years, past 2020. We heard in the election about the problem of operating agreements expiring, funding leaving, and then affordable units having to be surrendered or put up to market rent. With all that entails, people living there could not afford those rents, and we do not have a solution to that.
We have a temporary band-aid from the government in the national housing strategy that is going to take us to March 2020, which is kind of an extension of those agreements. However, three years into this Parliament, Canadians and certainly residents of the Columbus co-op expected that we would already know the long-term and lasting solution for those buildings. We expected a solution to preserve those social units for the sake of the people living in them, and to build on that base of social units that exist in order to ultimately increase and expand social housing.
We have not seen that solution, and it is an important failing of the housing strategy so far that this co-op does not have the help or certainty that it needs in its medium-term forecast.
There was an announcement in my riding recently under the national housing strategy. I am glad of the investment, as many people in northeast Winnipeg would be, but it is a challenge to somebody who really believes that there is a crisis and we need to increase our social housing stock.
The announcement was about rental units in a new development. The government press release said that this funding they were announcing would be contingent upon the company setting rents at 30% of the median household income. Well, the median household income is about $69,000 a year. If we take 30% of that and divvy it up over 12 months, that would mean the owner of the building could charge rents as high as $1,700 a month.
While I know there are middle-class families who are struggling to find affordable housing, there is a real urgency to kick-start the building of social housing. Therefore, in terms of the announcement we have seen, I am not confident that it goes to the area of highest need. I know we need to do many things at once, but I sure hope that the national housing strategy is not just about offering some money to developers to marginally lower their rents so that the Liberals can talk big numbers like $40 billion when they are only spending $10 billion, and actually 80% of that comes after the next election. We have heard recently in the Toronto Star that the government is willing to have some fun with numbers.
It is important that we put an emphasis on social housing, that we preserve units like the ones at Columbus co-op, and that we serve our homeless population, who are in desperate need of a roof over their head so they can get on with the other important things in their lives.