The National Housing Strategy: A Brave New Chapter for Housing Affordability in Canada

Today, the federal government released the long-awaited National Housing Strategy. It’s a significant, ambitious, 10-year commitment that prioritizes those most in need and heralds a new chapter in housing affordability across the country.

In this, our last communication to you as the National Housing Collaborative, we provide a brief sketch of how the Strategy meets the goals we have collectively created with you over the last year and a half, provide some highlights of the Strategy, and leave you with some parting thoughts (and our press release).

Measuring the Strategy against our goals

We’ve done a brief comparison to see how the Strategy measures up against our four pillars. We’re happy to see the government has picked up on many, if not all, of our recommendations, as highlighted below. We’re particularly pleased to see a commitment to a national housing benefit – a transformative new policy. While details about how it will be designed and implemented are yet to come, the government has committed $2B – to be cost matched by the provinces, for a total of $4B – with a goal of supporting 300,000 households.

What we recommended 

  1. A plan to prevent and end homelessness, with a focus on prevention and increased funding

What the Strategy delivers – Increased funding of $2.2B over 10 years; a goal to reduce chronic homelessness by 50%; program to be developed starting in April 2019

2. A national housing benefit that provides direct support to renters

What the Strategy delivers – A Canadian Housing Benefit, $4B (cost-shared with provinces and territories), starting in 2020 and growing to support 300,000 households

  1. Financial tools to incent more rental housing, market and nonmarket, that is affordable

What the Strategy delivers – A Co-investment Fund of $47B plus low-cost financing of $11.2B; funding must be supplemented by other levels of government but not necessarily through dollars; targets for long-term affordability of at least 30% of units (i.e. rents less than 80% of median market rent)

  1. Stabilization, repair and renewal, and transformation of social housing

What the Strategy deliversA $4.3B Community Housing Initiative (cost-matched by the provinces and territories) to support households, repair and renewal, and expansion; current levels must be maintained; $500M fund for federal co-ops over 10 years.

What else is in the Strategy?

Other highlights of the National Housing Strategy include the development of a First Nations-led National Housing and Infrastructure Strategy, funding and initiatives to support better data gathering and research, a new Federal Housing Advocate to provide advice to the Minister and CMHC on overcoming systemic barriers, and the introduction of new legislation that will require the sustainment of the Strategy and a report to Parliament on its outcomes every three years, beginning in 2020. In addition, there will be a new National Housing Council, composed of representatives from all levels of government, the housing sector, the research community and people with lived experience, to provide ongoing input into the Strategy.

Our assessment overall                                                                                           

This is Canada’s first National Housing Strategy, and it’s a gamechanger because of the size of the investment, the breadth of the policy, and the approach to how government will work with communities to shape housing going forward. The government listened, hard, to you and the many stakeholders who participated in the process leading up to this moment. If other levels of government step up to the plate, this could be the beginning of a brave new chapter in meeting Canada’s housing affordability challenges.

That said, two realities are apparent. First, there is still a lot of work ahead to fulfill the promise of these ambitious initiatives. All parts of the housing system – public, private and not for profit – will need to work together to realize the National Housing Strategy goals.

And second, we must now turn our attention to the provinces and territories to make sure that they play their part to ensure these goals can be delivered. Their participation will be critical to the ultimate design and delivery of the programs outlined in the Strategy.

So we urge you not to take your feet off the metaphorical gas pedal. Work with your provincial representatives to make sure that they come to the table as full partners to deliver on these outcomes. Let them know how important it is to step up and buy in.

And now, farewell

As you know, the National Housing Collaborative was conceived as a time-limited project with the sole aim of bringing together housing stakeholders from across the country to advance transformative, evidence-based policy recommendations to the federal government for the National Housing Strategy. Over the last 20 months or so, we have done just that. We believe our work has had significant influence on the development of the strategy, and are particularly proud to see the introduction of the Canada Housing Benefit – a landmark policy that will be transformative both for housing affordability and choice, and poverty reduction.

As we wind down our work post-Strategy, we are sure that different forms of collaboration will continue across the sector, some through new government initiatives such as the National Housing Council, and others through sector and civil society initiatives.   We look forward to working with many of you in different forms going forward.

Enormous thanks must go to the members of the National Housing Collaborative and our funders and partners, whose logos are at the bottom of this letter, for their work and their commitment. The United Way of Toronto and York Region was not only a funder but our administrative home, providing strong backbone support. And of course thanks must go to all of you, who, every day, grapple with the challenges of ensuring that people have safe, adequate and affordable homes.

With best regards

Pedro Barata, Co-Chair
Dina Graser, Co-Chair and Project Director
Derek Ballantyne, Senior Policy Advisor
Dana Granofsky, Senior Project and Process Specialist


November 22, 2017 — The federal government’s National Housing Strategy is a significant, ambitious, 10-year commitment that prioritizes those most in need and heralds a new chapter in housing affordability across the country. While more details are eagerly awaited, the strategy lays out clear and ambitious outcomes with an emphasis on helping the most vulnerable.

It is very encouraging to see the National Housing Strategy take a comprehensive approach: funding and financing to help renew existing and build new housing that is affordable over the long term; stabilizing and growing social housing; and committing to cut chronic homelessness in half.  TheNational Housing Collaborative is also pleased to see a transformative new national housing benefit with the Canadian Housing Benefit.

The Collaborative welcomes the commitments outlined in the Strategy, and looks to results-focused collaborations between the federal government the provinces and territories and municipalities to ensure that the implementation of the National Housing Strategy delivers greater choice, deeper affordability and stronger communities for Canadians.



“The Canadian Housing Benefit is a game-changer. If we are going to make progress against core housing needs and if we are going to reduce poverty in Canada, a new housing benefit is essential to that task. We welcome the federal government’s strong leadership on the National Housing Strategy today especially because it also protects existing social housing and commits to expanding stock.” — Pedro Barata, Senior Vice President, Strategic Initiatives and Public Affairs, United Way Toronto & York Region, Co-Chair National Housing Collaborative

“The Canadian Housing Benefit is potentially transformational, if it puts choice and buying-power directly in the hands of lowest-income renters and people experiencing homelessness. The Benefit is a significant and essential tool for reducing homelessness in Canada. We need to make sure it gets to those who need it most.” — Tim Richter, President and CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.

“The rental industry commends the government for identifying those in the deepest housing need as being the most in need of assistance, and for adding a portable housing benefit as a necessary pillar of its policy to reduce poverty, housing need and homelessness. It is now up to the provinces to come to the table and work with the federal government to make the new Canada Housing Benefit a reality for everyone who needs it.” — John Dickie, President, Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations.

“A strategy cannot be successful without an investment of money to help move that plan forward. The fact that federal government has already announced a significant investment into the implementation of this National Housing Strategy makes me optimistic that this strategy has the teeth it needs to succeed. We look forward to continuing our work with the federal government to provide more affordable homeownership opportunities for Canadians.” — Mark Rodgers, President & CEO, Habitat for Humanity Canada.



Laura Quinn, Senior Manager, Communications, United Way Toronto & York Region

Office: 416-777-1444 ext. 340

Mobile: 416-557-8508


Open Letter to Minister Duclos

October 24, 2017

Dear Minister Duclos,

Two years ago, Canadians warmly welcomed the Government of Canada’s announcement that it would develop a National Housing Strategy.

We commend governments and CMHC for taking a consultative approach and inviting Canadians from all parts of the country to share their experience, aspirations and advice. The Let’s Talk Housing consultations undertaken by CMHC were extensive and conclusive. The same consultative approach will also be important in ensuring that the National Housing Strategy is delivering the intended outcomes.

Overwhelmingly, housing experts, civil society, people with lived experience and other Let’s Talk Housing respondents identified affordability as the most pressing challenge facing Canadians – ranking it as the top issue more than twice as much as any other.

With work on the National Housing Strategy nearing its culmination, we urge the federal and provincial governments to adopt a balanced mix of policies and programs designed to deliver real improvements in housing affordability, particularly for those in greatest need, with measurable and time-bound outcomes.

Specifically, we call on all governments to ensure the Strategy will:

• Tackle housing poverty and homelessness – a national, portable housing benefit should become a cornerstone of both the National Housing Strategy and Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. Aligned with other investments, a properly designed portable housing benefit, cost-shared with the provinces and of sufficient scale, will set Canada on track to significantly reduce homelessness and deep core housing need and lift tens of thousands of households out of poverty – without inflating rents.

• Create more affordable housing– it’s time we dealt with housing as a system. To address the wide variety of housing needs in different housing markets across Canada, the Strategy should include tools and incentives that make housing affordability the role of everyone, not just any one part of the housing system. Affordability is a goal to which all housing sectors can contribute, across all tenure forms.

The Co-Investment Fund announced in the last budget is a start. So is the Rental Construction Financing initiative. But a fuller toolkit – including tax mechanisms in addition to financing, grants, and land – will leverage much more funding, which can build more and better projects, renew existing assets, and create a more entrepreneurial, sustainable and flexible system.

An assertive, system-based approach will shift the balance of investments from grants to equity and financing, allowing government to share both the risks and the rewards. And, incenting any developer – nonprofit or market – who meets underwriting criteria to build housing that is affordable will more effectively drive the outcomes the government seeks.

• Fix and retrofit our existing affordable housing stock – in addition to investing in new affordable housing, we must revitalize the existing stock and ensure its sustainability. Enhancing the capacity of social housing providers and enabling them to become more entrepreneurial will help their economic viability. Ensuring mechanisms to facilitate the repair and retrofit of market rental that is affordable is also essential to preserve the existing supply of housing that meets the needs of low- and moderate-income households.

Investing in energy retrofits and conservation will, over time, help the bottom-line, while reducing carbon emissions. But supply-side measures alone will not be enough. Continuation of assistance to low income tenants is essential for maintaining the stability and viability of housing providers.

As Canadians in communities all across this country – not just the big city markets – clearly indicated, the high cost of housing is strangling other important family needs. For many, the high cost of housing is pushing them into poverty.

We mustn’t lose this opportunity to improve the lives of the 1.5-million households who struggle with housing affordability each year.

Thank you for the time, energy and dedication that you have brought to this critical issue. We are counting on all governments to deliver on a National Housing Strategy that provides both a roadmap for the future and real results for Canadians.


Dina Graser and Pedro Barata


On behalf of the National Housing Collaborative

National Housing Collaborative welcomes federal Budget 2017

OTTAWA, March 22, 2017 – The National Housing Collaborative – an alliance of nonprofit and private housing associations and major foundations – is very encouraged by much-needed commitments made in Budget 2017 to strengthen housing affordability, and looks forward to working with the government to help deliver a National Housing Strategy.

With today’s budget, Finance Minister Morneau made significant strides towards ensuring critical investments in housing grow and continue. The budget addresses several of the Collaborative’s priorities, including preventing and ending homelessness; financial tools to help with new rental housing supply and renewal; support to help social housing providers maintain rent-geared-to-income units when long-term operating agreements expire; and a social housing transformation fund, all with an emphasis on helping the most vulnerable.

Budget 2017 provides a significant, $11.2B down payment on housing, including a new $5B National Housing Fund that opens the door to other innovative affordability measures. As the government moves to further develop the National Housing Strategy, the Collaborative calls on it to make the most effective use of these resources. The National Housing Strategy to come must be grounded in the best evidence we have on what works, and use innovative, outcomes-based approaches to maximize these dollars.

Budget 2017 is a significant and tangible step to achieving the vision of housing affordability. The Collaborative looks forward to working with government on the National Housing Strategy and a comprehensive plan that addresses all components of Canada’s housing system.


“Safe, affordable, good quality housing is an essential foundation for building healthy, productive lives, and is an indispensable component of strong communities. It’s good to see strong national leadership investing in the foundation of our communities.” – Pedro Barata, Senior Vice President, Strategic Initiatives and Public Affairs, United Way Toronto & York Region, Co-Chair National Housing Collaborative

“The government should be commended for committing to a National Housing Strategy, dedicating long-term funding to the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, and beginning long-term reinvestment in affordable housing after decades of inaction by successive governments. Budget 2017 is an important and welcome step in the right direction.” – Tim Richter, President and CEO, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness

“Low-income households living in non-profit and community housing are at imminent risk of losing the assistance that keeps their housing affordable to them. We’re pleased the baseline operating assistance funding will be continued to ensure availability of affordable housing for low-income households, and we’re looking forward to working with the government on how it will be rolled out after operating agreements expire.” – Nicholas Gazzard, Executive Director, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada.

“In recent years, social housing operators have struggled to find money for the growing backlog of repairs to their aging portfolios. We are happy to see the government investing in this critical area, and encourage it to move forward with new financing and equity tools to enable the sector to become more self-sufficient.” – Howie Wong, CEO, Housing Services Corporation

“We need innovation across the entire housing continuum, from homelessness to social and supportive housing right through to affordability for market-based rental and homeownership. In support of this, we welcome the major federal investment being made in housing market data, which will improve the capacity for decision-making across the entire housing spectrum, recognizing the vital links between market and non-market housing affordability,” Kevin Lee, CEO, Canadian Home Builders’ Association

“A nation-wide portable housing benefit would be the most cost-effective way to eliminate severe core housing need, the vast bulk of which is due to affordability gaps due to low incomes in high rent communities. We look forward to further developments in that direction.” – John Dickie, President, Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations

“The National Housing Strategy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for change.  To be effective, we must invest in all parts of the housing continuum, including affordable homeownership. Habitat for Humanity Canada is working to bridge the gap between social/rental housing and market housing, and we are looking forward to continuing our work with government in making that happen.” Mark Rodgers, President and CEO, Habitat for Humanity Canada



3 Tests for Success

The National Housing Collaborative

Housing Action in Budget 2017

The federal government has committed to the creation of a National Housing Strategy in spring 2017 based on the vision that “housing is the cornerstone of building sustainable inclusive communities and a strong Canadian economy where we can prosper and thrive.” The National Housing Collaborative – an alliance of nonprofit and private housing associations and major foundations – is keenly awaiting Budget 2017 as a downpayment on the government’s commitment to realizing its bold vision for housing.

Here are three things to look for in the upcoming budget as positive signs that a housing affordability agenda is moving forward in Canada. Continue reading “3 Tests for Success”

Housing Affordability and Poverty Reduction – Innovative Policy Solutions that Allow Us to Address Both

Kevin Lee, CEO, Canadian Home Builders’ Association

Housing has emerged as a major area of public policy concern in Canada, and not surprisingly, given the daily features by news organizations about how little this amount or that amount buys you these days in Vancouver, Toronto, and a growing number of other markets. And with good cause, the federal government has started to work on the issue, having launched an initiative to develop a National Housing Strategy as well as a Poverty Reduction Strategy. To be truly successful, however, the government needs to take a comprehensive approach to these questions and ensure that both of these strategies include two essential pillars: a Portable Housing Benefit, and policies to address market-rate housing affordability. Continue reading “Housing Affordability and Poverty Reduction – Innovative Policy Solutions that Allow Us to Address Both”

Addressing Unaffordability in the Rental Housing Market

Nicholas Gazzard, Executive Director, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada

Housing market realities

The residential rental market differs from other consumer markets in certain key ways that result in the market being unable to meet the housing needs of many Canadian households at a price they can afford. So what are the causes of this market failure? Continue reading “Addressing Unaffordability in the Rental Housing Market”

Helping collaterally damaged renters

Marion Steele, Emeritus Associate Professor, University of Guelph. Resident Research Fellow, Cities Centre, University of Toronto

Last fall Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance, announced a raft of measures to tackle the linked problems of financially precarious homeowners and accelerating house prices.  These measures put home ownership out of reach for many would-be home buyers, particularly those at the bottom of the much vaunted middle class.  The young in high-cost areas like the GTA are particularly affected.  An unfortunate side effect is that disappointed buyers, instead of vacating their rental accommodation, freeing it up for entrants into the rental market, will stay put, adding to rental demand pressure. Continue reading “Helping collaterally damaged renters”