Public land for public housing
To start the conversation on social housing, we need to first look at some facts:
- Between 1965 and 1990, the federal government was heavily involved in housing.
- With federal assistance through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 10% of total housing production in Canada at this time was public, non-profit, or co-operative.
- These projects were a lifeline to marginalized communities, providing homes to half of the lowest income segment of the roughly 170,000 new households added in Canada each year.
For just one local example of how these projects can work, look to the Native Council of PEI.
In 1974, they partnered with the CMHC to create the Nanegkam Housing Corporation, which offered 56 rent-geared-to-income units to off-reserve Indigenous people. Today, nearly 50 years later, those 56 units remain rent-geared-to-income.
They provide not only housing, but also cultural supports and community to a population that experiences the greatest core housing need of any demographic on PEI.
One investment back in 1974 has provided a generation of people with safe affordable housing and support in the face of colonial violence. This housing and support will remain in the community for generations to come.
Tenants struggle to pay increasingly impossible rents in an environment where developers and landlords hold all the cards.
Despite the overwhelming success of projects like these, in 1993 Prime Minister Jean Chrétien froze federal funding to new social housing projects, redirecting responsibility for housing to provinces and municipalities.
Some provinces, like BC, Ontario and Quebec, responded by pioneering social housing initiatives of their own. Others allowed housing to fall into the political quagmire we see today, with all levels of government all blaming one another for not doing enough to support affordable housing.
Meanwhile tenants struggle to pay increasingly impossible rents in an environment where developers and landlords hold all the cards.
Current market-driven model
Today, a private developer wanting to build an apartment complex can apply to the CMHC to receive taxpayer-funded capital grants, subsidized loans, and exemptions from fees and permits.
In exchange, they agree that 30% of their units will be rented at so-called affordable rates – which is classified as 80% of the median, and many low-income families still can’t afford it.
After 20 years, this affordability condition expires, and the building can be converted into luxury rentals, sold, or turned into a short term rental.
Rental supplements will disappear into the pocket of the developer, along with the initial investment of federal money.
Under a market-driven model, rather than invest in social housing, multiple levels of government pay private investors to occasionally provide something like affordable housing, while bearing the social and economic costs of a housing insecure population.
The market has very efficiently directed public funds to the privately wealthy, and the wait lists for the social housing projects that remain grow ever longer as the rent rises past the ability of low-income people to pay.
The market has always prioritized private gain over public good, and it always will. If we want safe, affordable, accessible housing for all members of our communities, we need our governments to live up to their responsibility to stand up for the rights and dignity of their people.
Governments must be ready and willing to intervene in the market in order to preserve existing affordable housing which is at risk.
Housing for the people
Rather than continuing to pour resources into the failing market model, we ask that the federal programs for social housing be expanded again, and that the province and municipalities of PEI follow the lead of other regions that have reacted to housing crises by creating local social housing projects.
Provinces and municipalities can both play a role in partnering with nonprofits and cooperatives to access the grants, lands and loans that are being offered to developers in order to build truly affordable housing. They can also work towards purchasing existing housing stock that is at risk of being converted into luxury rentals, repurposing these buildings as social housing instead. We can follow the example of the Nanegkam Housing Corporation in redirecting the profits from our rents to social supports for residents, or to the creation of more social housing projects.
“Inclusionary housing programs are municipal programs that use the development regulations and approval process to oblige private developers to provide a portion of affordable housing within their new market projects.
While not all inclusionary housing programs are the same, in order to be effective, they largely adhere to the following key characteristics:
- Engaging private developers to build and provide housing at a below-market price or rent:
- Providing housing that is affordable on a long-term or permanent basis to succeeding owners or renters;
- Providing affordable housing within market housing developments and not on separate sites or in different locations;
- Relying on concessions available through the regulatory process (like density bonuses and fee rebates) – and not financial subsidies – to reduce the cost burden on the developers for providing affordable housing;
- operating under fixed and non-negotiable rules that treat all developers in a consistent, equitable and transparent way.
These practices, it is important to stress, do not rely upon government funding to produce affordable housing. They do not compete for the scarce dollars upon which conventional programs critically rely. Instead, they represent an alternative and supplementary way of providing affordable housing that adds to the tools available to municipalities.
Under these practices, affordable housing will be built virtually everywhere market housing is built. Over time, that means affordable housing will be made available widely across our cities, giving people a much wider choice of places to live, including closer to where they work
- We want the federal government to set a target for the creation of new public, non-profit, and cooperative housing projects.
- We want the provincial government to provide public land for public development only.
- We want the provincial government to purchase and repurpose buildings to be turned into public housing (Ex: Prince Edward Home)
- Ensure there is more accessible housing. 1 in 7 units should be accessible.
- We want the municipal governments to incorporate “Inclusionary Zoning” into the building permits of developers. This would require any new housing builds to include 25-30% of rent geared to income units.
- We want the government to officially define “Affordable Housing” as 25% of a minimum wage income. This number must also be inclusive of utilities.
- We want the provincial government to broaden the eligibility criteria for those who can access public housing to include everyone in need.
- We want to ensure that tenants who live in public housing are supported in organizing an association to play a role in the decision-making of their building.
- We want CMHC programs to be expanded to provide more support for smaller non-profit and cooperative organizations who would like to build housing, but lack the capacity to meet the eligibility requirements to access federal grants and loans