Federation of Canadian Municipalities asks all federal political parties to commit to eight affordable housing target actions

Herald file photo.

Construction funds, supportive housing and data collection are just a few of the topics discussed in a new affordable housing proposal from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).

The proposal includes eight recommended actions for the federal government to apply over the next decade. The FCM called on each of the federal parties to commit to those actions as part of their campaign platforms for the upcoming election.

“I’ve heard it again and again that the housing issue, whether it’s affordable housing or social housing, is an issue that isn’t just in the big cities,” said Garth Frizzell, the FCM first vice-president and city councillor in Prince George, B.C.

“This isn’t just a Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver kind of issue. This is one that affects us in smaller cities like Prince George, with 79,000 (people) and in rural areas as well.”

“Right across this country, Canadians are gripped by a housing crisis and we’re looking for clear commitments from every national party to continue to tackle it,” FCM president Bill Karsten added in a media release.

Half of the targets focus on specific building goals, like establishing a $365-million annual construction fund for supportive housing, which helps low-income Canadians struggling with mental illness or substance abuse. Other targets include building or renovating an additional 1,000 housing units per year in collaboration with Indigenous housing providers, and expanding the Federal Lands Initiative to build additional housing on unused federal property.

The other four targets focus on leadership, and include things like establishing an intergovernmental forum on affordable housing, designing a housing adaption program for seniors, and creating a new affordable housing indicator to provide policymakers with more accurate and up-to-date information.

The eight targets would require a combined $800-million in annual funding for the next 10-20 years, and result in roughly 20,000 more houses across Canada. The goal is to fill gaps in Canada’s National Housing Strategy, which the federal government officially launched in 2017.

Frizzell said these eight recommendations won’t completely solve the country’s affordable housing problem, but it will cover a lot of ground.

“It’s not a simple solution,” he explained. “It’s going to be one that needs a lot of ongoing work. There’s a gap between what the rent or what the cost of buying a home is, and what the income of young Canadians is. It’s not going to be an overnight solution. What we’re looking for is commitment from the federal parties going into the election that they’re going to be working to make it better for Canadians.”

The FCM proposal drew positive reviews from local affordable housing experts.

Brian Howell, the executive director of the River Bank Development Corporation, said it was a “comprehensive look” at housing affordability in Canada that respected previous federal government efforts while calling for improvements.

“I think the recommendations are really good,” Howell said during an interview on Thursday. “I especially was impressed by the focus on Aboriginal housing and homelessness in the housing for moderate and low-income Canadians. That’s a really big issue in the housing community. To hear the mayors stand up and say, ‘yes, we have to do more about homelessness and we have to do more about affordable housing,’ is positive.”

Howell also like the plan to expand the Federal Lands Initiative, although he said previous searches for federal land in the Prince Albert area haven’t been successful. He also liked the focus on home purchases, something that’s quickly becoming a pipe dream for a lot of families.

“I liked their focus on housing affordability. I think for middle-class and working-class families, you keep hearing that a house is out of reach in many communities, especially the larger cities,” he said. “At some point, somebody is going to have to address that.”

Howell added that he’d like to see more funding available to upgrade current houses or apartments to make them more energy efficient, which would help bring costs down.

He’s confident the federal parties recognize the need to do something about affordable housing in Canada. It’s just a matter of agreeing on a course of action.

“I’d like to see interventions that are cost effective, that build on what’s out there and support existing activities and strengthen them so that we’re not trying to reinvent and start over all the time,” he said.

You can see the full report at www.fcm.ca/en