Mr. Speaker, this bill does not offer any new bold solutions to the challenges we are facing: the pandemic and the omicron variant, the affordability crisis and rising inflation, the climate emergency and the devastating heat waves, fires and floods that have come with it. It is certainly not up to the task of addressing the housing crisis that is being felt so severely by people in my riding of Victoria. In Victoria, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is now over $2,000 a month.
The cost of housing is skyrocketing. Families that want to own a home have given up hope of ever getting into the market. Under the Prime Minister, the average cost of a home is now 38% higher than it was just one year ago. Renters have very few options and are too often being forced into precarious housing. Too many people in my community are struggling to find housing. After the immense challenges of the past few years, too many families are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
I want to share the story of Valma and her family. For the past month, Valma and her partner Darcy have been living with their six-year-old daughter in Hotel Zed by Accent Inns. They are searching for housing. They were paying for their nightly motel costs and they went through almost all of their savings. Faced with no other options, they made a plan to purchase a tent, thinking they would be sleeping outdoors when they ran out of money.
As Valma shared her story with me, she started to talk about that moment and she was in tears. She shared what it was like being on the brink of homelessness, how horrible it was not to have a home for her little girl and how she was fighting to stay housed. Luckily, after hearing their story, Hotel Zed offered Valma and her family a room for free for another few weeks, buying them some time. She also talked about how she was worried that if she could not find housing, she might lose her daughter, and about how parents experiencing financial hardship also have to worry about having their children taken. It is what she called a broken cycle.
I told Valma I would bring her story to Ottawa. I asked her what she would want me to say to the government. She said, and these are her words, “There has got to be something done. It is not just us. There are other families just like ours. It is so tough out there. There has got to be something done.”
Valma had the courage to share her story, and because she did, Accent Inns reached out to the United Way of southern Vancouver Island to see what more could be done. They teamed up and, just this past Friday, launched a hotels for families in need fund. This fund supports local families that are on the brink of homelessness. Community members have already started donating. The funds will be distributed to families for accommodations, food and other essentials as they navigate finding more stable housing.
It is incredible to see our community come together like this. However, these families should never have been put in the situation where they are competing in an impossible rental market. It is what the provincial minister responsible for housing has called “a Hunger Games-style struggle, competing to access the limited supply of rental housing”.
Housing is a human right, and while the provincial government has been taking bold steps, the federal government's lack of action is shameful. We need affordable rentals, we need housing that has rent geared to income, we need more co-op housing and we need home ownership to be within reach of our community members.
The Liberals have made a lot of big promises for what they would accomplish in the first 100 days of their re-elected government. One of those promises was the appointment of a federal housing advocate. However, that 100-day mark passed last week, with no sign of a federal housing advocate. While I am disappointed, I am sadly not surprised. Like so many Liberal promises, this one is unfulfilled. This was not even a new promise. The position was first announced in 2017. The job posting closed 13 months ago. There is still no housing advocate.
Over the past six years that the Liberals have been in power, they have made lots of promises. They have talked a big game. They claim they care about access to affordable housing, but they have not backed up those words with actions, and because of the government's inaction, the housing crisis has only gotten worse.
The government had an opportunity with this bill to take action, but there is no additional funding to increase an affordable supply of housing. There is nothing in this bill to address flipping or to discourage speculators from continuing to buy properties to renovate and resell quickly for a profit. They are outbidding families and driving up housing prices in communities across Canada.
There is nothing in the bill to tackle blind bidding. There is no change in the definition of what the government considers affordable. What the government calls affordable is still far above what many Canadians can afford. Once again, there is no funding allocated for a “for indigenous, by indigenous” national housing strategy, which the Liberals have been promising but have repeatedly failed to deliver.
I want to take a moment to give a shout-out to the incredible team at the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness Society in Victoria. It continues to do innovative work to provide culturally supportive housing, affordable housing and services to the indigenous street community. It needs core funding to continue to do this important work.
The Aboriginal Housing Management Association in British Columbia recently launched a plan to show how “for indigenous, by indigenous” housing can be done successfully. This approach to housing is badly needed. The federal government needs to step up and provide funding so that indigenous people have access to the housing they deserve.
The Liberals, I am sure, will get up in the House and say that this bill does do something on housing, pointing to the underused housing tax. However, after decades of inaction from Liberal and Conservative governments, and amid a growing housing crisis, this is not anywhere near enough. It is not going to help Valma.
Not only is this one small piece a half measure, but it is full of loopholes. The bill established a 1% annual tax on the value of vacant and underutilized residential property only when the direct and indirect owners are non-residents and non-Canadians. Permanent residents and Canadian citizens are completely exempt, even if the house is vacant. Foreign ownership is exempt if someone declares the home as a principal residence. What is particularly concerning is that the Liberals have indicated that they will introduce regulations to add another exemption for non-Canadians who own vacation homes if they are used at least four weeks per year, potentially reducing the amount generated by this tax to $130 million per year. This approach is too little and it is too late.
The New Democrats would make different choices. Instead of protecting the profits of wealthy speculators who drive up the cost of housing, we would introduce a tax on flipping, while making significant investments to build 500,000 truly affordable homes. We would invest in co-ops, social housing and non-profit housing.
Everyone should have the right to a safe and affordable place to call home. People should be able to afford to live in the communities where they work. Young people should be able to afford to stay in the neighbourhoods they grew up in. Seniors should never be forced out of the communities they have spent their lives in. As I was writing this speech, I got a message from a senior who had just been rent evicted and was looking at the rental market scared. All of the prices were above the income they got per month. The reality is that too many people in my community are facing this crisis. They cannot afford rent, they cannot afford to buy a home and they are having to move away, forced out of the communities they spent their lives in.
If we want to solve the housing crisis, it is time to leave half measures behind and take the bold action needed.