Five reasons why the National Housing Strategy is a solid foundation for moving forward
Published on 12/12/2017
Through the years, Canada has had plenty of experience with “National Strategies” that are neither national nor strategic. Public policy observers could be forgiven for being cynical when the federal government released a National Housing Strategy on November 22.
Stakeholders had been calling for a National Housing Strategy for at least a decade to assure the federal government’s continued role in funding affordable housing. If that had been all this process had achieved, it would have been welcome but not worth calling a strategy. The plan that Minister Duclos has brought forward goes well beyond that. The ten-year strategy called “a Place to Call Home” is the product of eighteen months of work with provinces and territories, cities, and stakeholders. It sets targets for reducing homelessness and housing need, and a policy and investment approach for the federal government’s role in achieving that.
There are five things in particular that make this long-term plan more than just the dollar’ value of the investment.
- It focuses investment and policy on those facing housing need and homelessness. There is significant pressure on governments to respond to the high cost of entry to home ownership for middle and higher income households. While this is a challenge, the government did not bow to political pressure to solely address this issue. Instead, it focused its strategy on where the problem is most acute – the affordability challenges facing those spending as much as 70 to 80 per cent of their income on rent. This government deserves credit for focusing the strategy on the greatest need and where the investment can have the greatest impact.
- It includes a strong commitment to realizing the right to housing. We were pleased to see that the strategy included a commitment to legislation on the right to housing. But a strategy that is grounded in the idea that housing is a right needs to have real actions to give that commitment some weight. Actions included in the strategy are the creation of institutions (such as a new housing advocate) and new engagement processes that promote accountability and participation from those most affected by the strategy. These are all consistent with Maytree’s recommendations on how the National Housing Strategy could move forward on the right to housing. The strategy is also anchored in ambitious targets and public reporting that can help focus attention and political will.
- It begins to correct a major imbalance in federal housing policy. Housing affordability challenges are driven by both a lack of supply of low cost housing and the ability of people to pay for the other options available. While most countries have policies that target both sides of this equation, Canadian housing policy has skewed towards addressing supply while ignoring demand. The introduction of the new Canada Housing Benefit (another Maytree recommendation) begins to correct that imbalance by promising a policy approach that will provide direct assistance to renters facing affordability challenges. While the effectiveness of this policy will depend on design questions that have yet to be answered, it represents an important direction of expanding the range of policy responses for housing affordability.
- It invests in evidence, data, and research to inform better policy-making. A long-term strategy needs to have the flexibility to respond to results on the ground. To be able to do so, we need the evidence and analysis to inform that decision-making, something that has been sorely lacking in the past in housing. It is welcome news to see commitments in the strategy not only to investing in research and data but also to find new ways to work with experts outside of government towards improving housing policies and programs.
- It preserves the important investments we have made before. While getting better results means breaking with a status quo that has left 1.6 million Canadian households in housing need, that doesn’t mean leaving behind the affordable housing stock that is our most valuable asset in housing policy today. The strategy includes both repair funding for social housing and ongoing operating support to keep it affordable, making sure that we have a solid base to build from.
While it is important for civil society groups to hold government to account, it is also important to give credit for hard-earned progress when it happens. The new National Housing Strategy is a solid foundation for moving forward. We should see the strategy not as the end of an eighteen-month process but as the beginning of a ten-year process of implementation. There are major components of the strategy that still need to be worked out. However, you can’t reach your destination if you don’t start off in the right direction and the National Housing Strategy provides a solid start.
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