Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to be giving my first speech in this new House of Commons. I am even more delighted that this speech is about an issue that is so close to my heart, as everyone knows, an issue I have been working on for seven years now, on behalf of my party, here in the House, as well as every day in my riding of Hochelaga. The issue I will be talking about today is housing. What is more, I will not stop talking about it until the right of every person in Canada to secure, adequate and affordable housing is upheld. There is still a long way to go before that happens.
I want to thank my colleague from Saskatoon West for tabling the motion we are debating today, and I commend her for the work she has done on this issue.
The motion reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government is failing to adequately address Canada’s housing crisis and that, therefore, the House call on the government to create 500,000 units of quality, affordable housing within ten years, and to commit in Budget 2019 to completing 250,000 of those units within five years.
The NDP endorses the principle that housing is a human right. About 43 years ago, Canada ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In so doing, the Canadian government formally recognized a set of rights, including the right to housing, and committed itself and its successors to continue to formally recognize that right and take measures to ensure that the entire population is able to enjoy it.
Obviously, we are not all on the same page about what it means to keep an international commitment. One need only take a little walk around the streets of Ottawa or those of my Montreal riding, where the situation is worse, to see that not everyone is lucky enough to have a roof over their head. However, that does not seem to bother my colleagues opposite. When it came time to vote on the bill introduced by my colleague from North Island—Powell River, which would have recognized the right to housing, the Liberals opposed it. What is more, when they announced with great fanfare their housing strategy, which is supposed to coordinate government housing efforts, they also committed to formally recognizing the right to housing, but we are still waiting for that to happen.
We are still waiting not only for legislation that officially recognizes housing as a right and provides recourse to people in need of housing, but also for 90% of the funding this government promised when it announced its housing strategy, funding that has been deferred.
Why are they playing these political games at the expense of people in need?
While the government announces its lofty principles and bombards us with fictitious numbers to try to convince us that it is doing everything it can to guarantee the right to housing, the actual state of housing in the country continues to deteriorate. This will persist until the government takes responsibility and actually does something besides making empty promises.
Canada is in a full-blown housing crisis. Rental and purchase prices continue to rise. There is a shortage of rental housing across the country.
The fact is, since the early 1990s, both Liberal and Conservative federal governments have pulled back from funding social and co-operative housing. The statistics clearly and irrefutably show that too many Canadian families spend over 30% of their income on housing. In 2018, the rental housing vacancy rate fell to 2.4%, which is below CMHC's 3% equilibrium threshold. That means the supply of rental housing is too low to meet demand, which puts upward pressure on rental rates, which is not helpful at all. As a matter of fact, average rental rates in all provinces increased last year. That is a direct consequence of the fact that, as I found out, only 10% of new housing starts over the past 15 years were rental units.
I think we can all agree that the situation is clearly not helping to curb soaring rental rates, which are going up faster than people's incomes, unfortunately. That means even more people are living in housing they can no longer afford.
According to the 2016 national household survey, a quarter of all Canadian households, whether they rent or own, spend more than 30% of their total income on housing. That is not affordable, according to the CMHC, which considers these households to be in core housing need.
Currently, 1.7 million Canadian households spend too much on housing.
When it comes to renters, specifically, two out of five families spend more than 30% of their income on rent.
Even more alarming is that, today, one in five Canadians spends more than 50% of their income on housing. We can all agree that this can hardly be called affordable housing, and it is easy to see why a growing number of these people are just one paycheque away from living on the streets. This could well be one of the causes behind the growing number of homeless people. It is a direct result of the housing crisis in Canada. It is very worrisome, and we are not the only ones to say so.
In 2016, Canada's big city mayors estimated that there were more than 170,000 households in their municipalities that were waiting for subsidized housing. We are hearing that current social housing programs in rural areas are simply not tailored to the needs of the communities.
The motion we are debating today seeks to provide a lasting solution to this crisis by increasing the stock of social and affordable housing in Canada. We want a firm commitment from the government to quickly bring in measures that would stimulate the construction of quality rental units for families in need. We are calling on the government to provide for incentives in the upcoming budget to help build 500,000 social and affordable housing units in Canada over the next 10 years, with half to be built by 2024.
I would now like to talk a bit about the unacceptable housing situation of indigenous people, both those living on reserve and those living in urban or rural areas.
First, I strongly believe that the government should develop a Canadian housing strategy specifically for indigenous people. It would be designed for them and with them. The housing would be adapted to their cultures and different weather conditions. I also believe they should be offered on-site training, which would create jobs.
Article 21 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizes the right to housing and affirms that states shall take effective measures to ensure continuing improvement of housing problems. Indigenous people living in urban areas are eight times more likely to be homeless than the rest of the population. Nevertheless, the 2017 budget only allocated $225 million over 11 years, or about $20 million a year, for off-reserve indigenous housing. That is not a lot of houses to meet such a great need.
The Liberal government promised to invest in first nations communities, which is not a bad thing, but we must also remember that half of Canada's indigenous population lives in urban areas. The housing situation in indigenous communities is a total disaster.
Just yesterday, four of my colleagues held a press conference to talk about the mould crisis on reserves and in the north. That will do nothing to help the existing housing shortage in first nations and Inuit communities.
In 2011, nearly 41% of on-reserve households were living in homes in need of major repairs, and mould was reported in 51% of the units. In 2016, figures were already showing that the on-reserve housing shortage would reach 115,000 units by 2031. The department's data already indicated that 20,000 on-reserve units would be needed to lower the average number of people per household to four and that 81,000 homes would be required to reach the Canadian average of 1.5 people per household.
The Liberals know all of this, but apparently, taking action is not their forte. As evidence of this, even though departmental officials were aware of the 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 needed. It is time to pull our heads out of the sand, roll up our sleeves and do what is necessary. This is not rocket science. There is a shortage of social and affordable housing all across the country, and families are struggling to make ends meet. We need to create incentives for the construction of new rental units across the country. That would be a good investment.