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