Budget 2023 fails to address Canada’s housing emergency

Following the release of the 2023 Federal Budget on March 28, the Federal Housing Advocate, Marie-Josée Houle, issues the following statement:

March 31, 2023 – Ottawa, Ontario – Office of the Federal Housing Advocate

The newly unveiled Federal Budget is a sorry disappointment. It completely misses the mark on addressing the most pressing housing crisis this country has ever seen. There are no new ideas, and not nearly enough new money announced for housing. The homelessness crisis was not even mentioned. This is simply unacceptable.

The Budget’s investments fall drastically far short of what is required to stem the tide of housing loss and homelessness that is sweeping across the country. It also fails to deliver on Canada’s commitment to the human right to housing and does not even mention housing as a human right.

In recent years, Canada has recognized in law this human right to adequate housing. But those are not mere words. They impart responsibilities. They require the federal government to devote tangible financial resources to make sure this human right is upheld for everyone. But this Federal budget did not do that.

By failing to properly invest in housing, Budget 2023 fails Indigenous peoples, as well as women, people who are Black and racialized, people with disabilities, people who are 2SLGBTQ+, and other disadvantaged groups, who are bearing the brunt of the housing and homelessness crisis.

Consider this:

There is no health without adequate housing.

There is no reconciliation without adequate housing.

There is no safety for Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people without adequate housing.

There is no mental health or addiction recovery without adequate housing.

There is no gender equity, racial justice, or inclusion without adequate housing.

Yet the only new money for housing in this budget is $4B over seven years, beginning in 2024–25, to implement a co-developed Urban, Rural and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy. Granted, this is a welcome investment that comes after years of advocacy by Indigenous-led organizations. But when compared with the National Housing Council’s call for $6.3B over two years beginning in 2022-23, this budget provides too little, too late.

The challenges facing people in Canada have gotten worse over the past year: with inflation and increasing interest rates, the loss of affordable housing at rapid rates, and with newcomers to Canada facing disproportionate barriers to their right to adequate housing.

Yet Budget 2023 includes no measures to improve the National Housing Strategy, despite the Auditor General’s finding that the Strategy is not resulting in measurable decreases in chronic homelessness. As it stands, the Strategy is not meeting its goals of halving core housing need and eliminating homelessness by 2030, and it is not meeting the needs of Indigenous peoples and disadvantaged groups. Missing from this Federal Budget are desperately-needed investments in the Strategy’s programs such as:

  • Expanded and long-term funding for the Rapid Housing Initiative, the most effective program in the Strategy for creating new homes that are affordable and accessible to those in deepest need;
  • A new acquisition fund to enable municipalities, non-profits, and co-ops to purchase housing stock and make renovations to aging buildings, which will protect affordable housing, increase non-market housing options, and counter the financialization of housing;
  • Increases to the Canada Housing Benefit, to help people weather inflation and keep a roof over their heads;
  • New funds for the Reaching Home program, to help municipalities provide shelter and services for people experiencing homelessness.

Budget 2023 also fails to address major systemic issues that are affecting the human right to housing in Canada. There is no mention of homelessness, nor any promise of relief for people enduring deplorable conditions in encampments. Though it expresses concern about the financialization of housing across Canada, the budget stops short of introducing new measures to address it.

Each of these failures of Budget 2023 point to the urgent need to re-design the National Housing Strategy, so that the $82B already invested in the Strategy can make a real difference in the lives of people in Canada.

A revised National Housing Strategy should:

  • Provide better housing for Indigenous people, regardless of where they live.
  • Make programs purpose-built to address the needs of people experiencing inadequate housing and homelessness, and ensure that they show measurable results for people most in need, including the Strategy's priority groups.
  • Prioritize the development and acquisition of housing supply that is permanently affordable and provides community value.
  • Demonstrate the leadership role of the federal government and a coordinated approach to involve all levels of government in solving the housing crisis.

My job in the coming year will be to keep the conversation focused on housing as a human right, and to highlight the connections between housing and other key issues. Issues such as: mental health, the poisoned drug supply, the lack of a GBA+ approach to housing, and gender-based violence and inequity.

I will also continue to amplify the voices of Indigenous partners about MMIWGI, Indigenous Child Welfare, and to push for significant investments in the larger ticket items next year, so Canada can see this year’s Budget as a runway to appropriately addressing housing as a human right, rather than a race to fall off the cliff.

The Government of Canada must put its money where its mouth is and uphold its human rights obligations, end homelessness, and put the human right to adequate housing at the centre of economic and social policy.

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