Housing on the Hill: Bill calls for a national housing strategy

It has been over a decade since the federal government pulled its funding for social housing, leaving the provinces in charge of financing what has become a national crisis.


However, this may change with the enactment of Bill C-304—a national housing act motioned by MP Libby Davies. After countless debates, amendments and readings in the House of Commons, the act may reach its final stage next month on its third reading and become reality, compelling the Conservative government to step in and take leadership for a national housing strategy.


Not only does the bill call for the leadership of the federal government, but also the cooperation and partnership with provinces, territories, First Nations and municipalities to develop an effective goal to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for all Canadians.


“There is a housing crisis in Canada,” says Davies, MP for Vancouver East. “The most severe part of the crisis is homelessness, but it also affects so many others. Canada needs a plan—housing is a fundamental human right.”


According to a 2003 Niagara District Health Council study, more than 18 per cent of Canadians live in housing insecurity. The study acknowledges that Canada’s housing shortage has created a homelessness crisis and obstructs other social factors of health, as many Canadians are spending more of their income on shelter.


The bill addresses such problems and, consequently, nearly 60 organizations and municipalities have signed on—including the City of Vancouver, Amnesty International and Pivot Legal Society. All signatories support a national housing strategy, and believe it is necessary and central to public policy plans on homelessness, crime and poverty.


“Bill C-304 is a step in the right direction,” says lawyer Doug King of Pivot Legal Society. “It gets the federal government involved in funding housing and actually recognizing it is a right in Canada.”


Although the NDP, Liberal and Bloc Québécois parties embrace the act, the Conservative government has condemned it. During the bill’s first reading, Conservative MP Dean del Maestro voted against it, considering it a “fundamentally flawed piece of legislation.” He also said it would cost Canadian taxpayers too much money.


National housing advocates, such as Davies, counter those criticisms.


“The bill is not only a fundamental right, but also good for the economy in the long run,” says Davies. “It creates jobs and is a good way to build a sustainable society by building new green buildings and houses. It is, economically and socially, a win-win bill.”


Pivot Legal Society also agrees it makes economic sense to adopt a national housing strategy.


“If you can get more people off the street your cities’ costs go down, such as healthcare,” says King.


King says that although the long-term affects of Bill C-304 will bring economic benefits, the federal government is reluctant to get back into the program ever since they stopped funding social housing.


During the 1980s and 1990s the Canadian government did invest in programs for co-op and social housing. However, in 1993 that funding was pulled under the Jean Chrétien government in order to help eliminate the national deficit.


Since then the government has placed the financial responsibility for social housing onto provincial governments. Canada is now the only G8 nation without a national housing strategy.


“We need a long-term housing strategy,” says Davies. “The evidence is on the streets. Why do we have homelessness? Because we need to have a housing plan to make it more affordable.”


Photo by Tallulah Tallulah


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