The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) is teaming up with five organizations in a campaign called Vote Housing, which aims to make Canada’s housing policy an election issue.
Why the focus on housing policy?
Canada has witnessed rising levels of homelessness and precarious housing since the 1990’s. The rise is correlated to a number of changes in government policy and spending. For example, the federal government stopped providing funding for social housing. It also reduced the transfer payments to provincial governments, which had helped to pay for social and health services.
Tim Richter, who is the President of the CAEH, says that with the Vote Housing policy proposals, Canada could end homelessness and precarious housing. With a federal election in the offing, he also argues that it’s important to let all political parties know that ending homelessness and precarious housing is a significant issue for Canadian voters.
Who is leading the campaign?
There are five partners in the Vote Housing campaign: the CAEH, the Co-operative Housing Federation (CHF), the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (CHRA), the Aboriginal Caucus of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (Aboriginal Caucus) and the Canadian Lived Experience Leadership Network (the Network).
The CHF, the CHRA and the Aboriginal Caucus represent the non-profit organizations across the country which operate and manage non-market social housing. Altogether 536,000 households live in social housing in Canada.
People in the Canadian Lived Experience Leadership Network have experience of homelessness and precarious housing. Some 1.6 million people in Canada have experience of being homeless. The Network encourages and supports people to speak up about their homelessness and poor housing situations.
What is the campaign seeking?
Briefly, Vote Housing calls for:
- Implementing an indigenous-led urban and rural housing program. Indigenous people are far more likely to experience homelessness than any other group in Canada. Indigenous people are also more likely to live in housing that is not safe, and/or housing that is overcrowded and/or has high housing costs. The National Housing Strategy, Canada’s current housing policy, promised an indigenous led strategy in 2017: there is still no sign of one almost four years on.
- Ending homelessness. The National Housing Strategy committed to cutting homelessness by 50% by 2030. The speech from the throne in 2019 committed the current government to ending homelessness. The CAEH and partners want to ensure that this commitment carries over to the next government, with programs to help people avoid becoming homelessness and to support people who are homeless to move to permanent housing.
- Adding 300,000 housing units to the stock of non-market housing. This would add to the existing supply of housing that operates outside the private rental housing market. Disconnected from the market, it could be offered at rents that are affordable to people with very low and no incomes.
- Adding 50,000 supportive housing units to the existing stock of non-market housing. This housing would provide to tenants practical social and health assistance as well as low rents. Supportive housing is a key part of assisting people who live with mental illness and/or use substances to avoid further homelessness.
- Continuing to implement the right to housing. Canada committed to housing as a human right in 2019. Historically, there have been few efforts to consult people with experience of homelessness, or precarious housing. As a result, policies and programs may not be especially helpful or cost more than they need to. The campaign seeks to to ensure that people with experience have a voice in policy setting.
- Providing financial assistance to tenants who are precariously housed. The 2017 National Housing Strategy included financial assistance for a limited number of households. This began to roll out at the beginning of COVID-19. The campaign seeks to expand the number of households that would receive assistance, to partly counteract COVID-triggered job losses.
Why does this matter?
Staying home was the first line of defense during the COVID epidemic. There were widespread concerns that the housing prices and rents would tumble. Instead, the opposite has happened. At the same time, many people have been working fewer hours or have lost work altogether. Widespread evictions are predicted. COVID’s health impacts have also been especially hard on visible minorities and people who experience homelessness.
As countries slowly shed emergency protocols, there are multiple efforts to influence government housing policy. The Vote Housing strategy and tactics may be of interest to advocates in other countries.