I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 17 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. Pursuant to the orders of reference of April 11 and May 26, 2020, the committee is resuming its study of the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today's meeting is taking place by video conference, and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. The website will always show the person speaking, rather than the entire committee.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, please click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. Before we get started, I would like to remind everyone to please use the language channel of the language you speak.
I would like to thank the witnesses for joining us today. With us today we have, from L'Association des groupes de ressources techniques du Québec, Éric Cimon, director general; and from the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, Tim Richter, president and CEO.
Welcome to the committee, Mr. Cimon. You have the floor for 10 minutes.
Thank you for having us as part of the committee business so that we can highlight the importance of housing during the current crisis. I'll start by introducing our organization. The Association des groupes de ressources techniques du Québec is made up of 25 technical resource groups, or GRTs, that serve the entire province of Quebec. These GRTs are social economy enterprises that, for over 40 years, have helped create more than 85,000 housing units in the form of co-operatives or housing non-profit organizations. These units account for over half of Quebec's social housing stock.
The GRTs also support many community real estate projects, including community centres and early childhood centres. GRTs have played a key role in the development of housing projects for over 40 years. We're involved in all stages of a housing project, including the identification of needs, project support, the implementation strategy, financing, site supervision, group training, and real estate and financial management. The GRTs act as catalysts to carry out housing projects that meet the various needs of the most vulnerable people throughout Quebec.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us one thing, it's the importance of staying home to prevent the spread of the virus. People across the country have stayed home. However, we must remember that too many people don't have a home, and that too many families have homes that are unsafe, too expensive or simply not suited to their condition or reality. We've seen the significant movement to help food banks, because more and more people can no longer afford to eat. However, we've forgotten that the reason is probably that these people need to spend far too much of their income on housing.
Giving families proper and affordable housing means ensuring that they're better fed, better clothed, healthier, less vulnerable and therefore protected from a future pandemic. What we saw during the pandemic and what studies will show is that community housing can help us respond quickly to a crisis such as the current one.
Community housing projects are owned collectively and run democratically. This makes them small communities where people know each other very well and help each other. This empowers all residents to take responsibility for their well-being and increases their desire and ability to take action. This is good for protection against a virus, but it's also good for all the little things that come up in daily life.
The latest census counted 1.7 million households in Canada, including 306,000 in Quebec, in core housing need. That's shameful. It's easy to predict that the current crisis will significantly increase these needs. However, a massive investment in community housing is an excellent way to prepare for the next pandemic. You must be wondering why this investment hasn't already been made. The fascinating thing about this situation is that for you, the elected members in the House of Commons, it wouldn't be acceptable for your constituents to not have access to an education system or a school. It wouldn't be acceptable for the people in your constituency to not have access to health care. So why is it acceptable that almost 13% of the country's population has trouble meeting such a basic and essential need as housing?
I have good news for you. As part of the economic and crisis recovery process, investments in community housing also benefit the economy. Every dollar invested in Quebec in the development of community housing generates $2.3 in economic activity. We're asking you to use community and social housing as a way out of the crisis. We aren't the only ones. About 20 organizations outside the community housing sector are also asking for this, including chambers of commerce, real estate developers, foundations, the Chantier de l'économie sociale and municipal organizations, to name but a few. They all believe in community housing not only for its economic recovery aspect, but also for its benefits.
The discussions on the pandemic are giving us the opportunity to review our habits. We must do so by carrying out more compassionate, greener and more sustainable projects. We're also making it clear that support for the basic needs of vulnerable people mustn't be subject to markets and profits.
The health and safety of the most vulnerable people shouldn't be an industry, but a government obligation.
The models used by co-operatives and housing NPOs are striking examples of how we can do things differently, while still focusing on the well-being of residents. From this perspective, the government must increase its partnerships with the social economy. It's a way of doing more and doing better, for the greater good. There are many examples. I encourage you to discover these examples across the country.
Quebec has its own housing ecosystem. It involves 40 years of partnerships and complementary relationships between co-operatives, housing NPOs, municipal housing offices, cities, municipalities, the health care system, community groups and crown corporations. It also reflects the success of the AccèsLogis Québec program, which was jointly built by the Société d'habitation du Québec and housing organizations. Lastly, the success of collective ownership ensures the long-term affordability of housing. Your role is to support and consolidate it.
How can you do so? We want to emphasize the importance of the federal government's resumption of funding for housing. After a 20-year absence, the establishment of the national housing strategy was well received.
First, the whole principle of the government's contribution in terms of taking leadership and investing to address a major issue was well received. In addition, we appreciated it because we could then develop a strategy with long-term perspectives and planning processes. Developing housing and engaging communities, especially the most vulnerable communities, takes time.
In recent weeks, pressure has been mounting for the signature of a housing agreement between the federal government and Quebec, the last province waiting for money from the housing strategy. A number of people seem to be hoping that the solution lies in that money. I want to tell you that we don't understand why this money wasn't distributed a long time ago. When a house is burning, we don't wonder where the water comes from or who owns the house. We just quickly put out the fire.
Second, although this money is needed and expected, the amount is far from sufficient. The needs are so significant that we need a major initiative, a massive investment, and leadership from all of you, from the political world. The communities will welcome the investments in their basic needs. Across the country, housing is becoming increasingly important and turning into a critical issue. Cities and municipalities have systematically included it in their priorities in recent years.
We hope that you'll take into account our message so that, the next time we speak at a committee meeting, we can report on our successes rather than on missed opportunities.
Thank you for your attention.
Good afternoon, and thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today about the federal government’s response to COVID-19, specifically as it relates to homelessness.
I’m going to talk briefly about the federal emergency response to COVID-19, but like my colleague, I'll focus more on the opportunity ahead of us to build a recovery for all.
Before COVID-19, we already had a disaster unfolding on our streets that's at the same scale as the biggest natural disasters in Canadian history. Each year, over 235,000 different Canadians experience homelessness. We know that homelessness condemns people to an early death, erasing as much as 25 years off a person’s life and killing untold numbers every year. Toronto’s homelessness memorial alone lists over 1,000 names.
This disaster was man-made. The mass homelessness we see in Canada today is the consequence of federal policy, specifically the elimination of federal affordable housing programs in the 1990s and cuts to social transfers to the provinces. These cuts have been compounded by unchecked and pernicious market forces that have systematically stripped Canada’s rental housing market of hundreds of thousands of units of affordable housing. The irony in the cuts of the 1990s is that they effectively achieved no savings. They simply shifted costs into other parts of federal and provincial balance sheets, like health care, justice and social services. Homelessness costs over $7 billion per year.
People experiencing homelessness are at significantly elevated risk from COVID-19 as a result of serious pre-existing health conditions, crowded living conditions, poor access to health care and more. Since early March, there's been a mad scramble in homeless services to put in place measures to protect homeless people from COVID-19.
Toronto today is the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in the homeless system. There have been about 500 positive cases in 14 outbreaks. To put this in perspective, the entire province of Manitoba had 297 cases.
Toronto, so far, is the worst of it. That we haven’t yet seen large-scale outbreaks and loss of life outside of Toronto is the result of several important factors including incredibly rapid and heroic efforts by front-line workers; expert health care leadership from the Canadian Network for the Health and Housing of People Experiencing Homelessness; the protection afforded by public health measures that kept most Canadians at home, thus reducing the risk of transmission to people experiencing homelessness; and frankly, homeless people fleeing shelters for the comparative safety of sleeping outside.
A critically important factor in the homeless sector’s ability to protect people was the responsiveness of the Government of Canada, and specifically, Employment and Social Development Canada and the reaching home program. , and their officials should be specifically recognized and applauded. They were able to get urgently needed, flexible funding out to communities rapidly, which has been essential in helping communities prepare and secure everything from personal protective equipment and staffing to hotel rooms for isolation, quarantine and social distancing.
However, none of the emergency measures we've put in place is a replacement for a home, and we are by no means out of the woods yet. There are very real risks presented by reopening the economy, challenges remaining in sustaining protections over a longer term and very real dangers posed by a second wave of the virus.
Governments across Canada are starting to reopen the economy and people are talking about getting back to normal. There can be no getting back to normal. Normal was more than 235,000 Canadians per year homeless and at life-threatening risk for no other reason than they were poor and without a home. The time is now for us to not only act urgently to move people into housing as fast as humanly possible, but to build a recovery plan that creates a permanent and sustainable end to homelessness.
To that end, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness has put forward a recovery plan for ending homelessness. This plan includes six points.
One is a federal commitment, with timelines and targets, to the prevention and elimination of homelessness, with expanded federal investment in community-based homelessness responses building on the reaching home program, including a national definition of “homelessness” and specific measures to address homelessness for indigenous people, veterans, women and people living in rural and remote communities. As we’ve seen in the pandemic, federal leadership is essential and highly effective.
Two is a national guaranteed minimum income to ensure those in greatest need have minimum financial resources to help them meet their basic needs and prevent homelessness when times are tough.
Three is the construction of 300,000 new, permanently affordable and supportive housing units over 10 years, and enhanced rental support for low-income Canadians to address Canada’s housing and homelessness crisis. In creating new housing, priority should be given to people experiencing homelessness or those at greatest risk. We should look closely at an expansion of the Canada housing benefits to better support prevention of homelessness.
Four is the meaningful implementation of the right to housing to surface and resolve inequities and systemic or structural barriers that contribute to homelessness and housing needs. As the private sector well knows, when you listen to your customers and respond to their needs, you get much more efficiency and better outcomes. This is at the heart of the right to housing.
Five is the implementation of measures to curtail the impact of financialization of rental housing markets by limiting the ability of large capital funds, including real estate income trusts, to purchase distressed rental housing assets. According to noted housing policy researcher Steve Pomeroy, between 2011 and 2016, the number of private rental units affordable to households earning less than $30,000 per year—so those are rents below $750 a month—declined by 322,600 units. In the same period, federal and provincial affordable housing investments, mainly in B.C. and Quebec, added fewer than 20,000 new affordable units. For every one new affordable unit created, at considerable public cost, 15 existing private affordable units were lost.
If this trend continued to 2020, that means over 480,000 affordable rental units would have been lost. Following the pandemic, there is a very real worry that this trend could accelerate, making Canada's housing crisis even worse. If we're in a hole, we have to stop digging.
Next is the final and very important point. Six is an adequately resourced, distinctions-based, urban and rural indigenous housing and homelessness strategy that is developed and implemented by urban, rural and northern indigenous peoples and housing and service providers. Indigenous peoples are approximately 5% of Canada's population but can account for up to 30% of the homeless population. According to federal shelter data, indigenous men are 11 times more likely to end up in homeless shelters than are non-indigenous men, and indigenous women are 15 times more likely to end up in a shelter than are non-indigenous women.
In every crisis there is opportunity. We have an opportunity to build back better. We cannot go back to normal, a normal world where 235,000 different Canadians are homeless, where 1.7 million households live in substandard or unaffordable housing, where people are at life-threatening risk for no other reason than that they're poor and they don't have a home.
Homelessness is the direct result of past policy choices. It's time for us to make better choices.
We also know what to do, and we know how to do it. We can follow the lead of communities like Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat, Guelph, Chatham-Kent, Dufferin and Durham and more, which have all achieved large-scale reductions in homelessness. In fact, Montreal is a really good example. Montreal has half the rate of homelessness of Calgary because Montreal kept building affordable housing and supporting people's incomes.
Investment in ending homelessness saves money. According to a 2019 report from the City of Edmonton, since 2009, 8,400 people have been housed, and overall homelessness in Edmonton has been reduced by 43%. In addition, these efforts saved an estimated $920 million in health and justice system costs. Canadian studies have shown that for every $1 spent on housing-first programs, there's more than $2 in savings in health and justice systems.
Investing in housing creates jobs. Our proposal to build 300,000 new units of housing over 10 years would create at least 300,000 jobs and stimulate another three million jobs elsewhere in the economy. We have an opportunity now to build back better, accelerate progress on any homelessness, address Canada's housing crisis, create jobs, achieve long-term cost savings, have better social policy and stimulate the economy. We have the opportunity to build a recovery for all.
After federal funding was discontinued in the 1990s, Quebec created its own programs to fund community housing. So today, half of the country's cooperatives are in Quebec.
Housing associations, federations and offices have formed an ecosystem that is integrated into the health system and that includes all community partners [Technical difficulty—Editor] and Crown corporations.
I know that there is a lot of catching up to do in the country, and a model must be rebuilt. That's quite necessary. However, if the federal government comes back with a plan to invest money in a pre-established ecosystem that must work and that works well, and whose primary issues stem from funding, we can expect tensions to rise.
As I was saying earlier, when the house is burning, we don't think about who owns the water, we just put out the fire. Things must go beyond that. The money is the same for the same citizens, who have different representatives, but the need is the same. I am talking about homeless people, for instance, or single mothers who have to work two or three jobs to take care of their child. Those projects will ensure to get people off the streets and away from poor housing conditions.
So I want to re-emphasize the importance of this agreement. The amount of money is good, and these are things we agreed on. However, as Mr. Richter said, the money is totally insufficient to meet the housing needs of a modern society. Massive investments must be made, and there must be more mobilization to properly house people, get them off the streets and provide them with a decent quality of life. Housing is a primary need.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to the witnesses for their presentations.
Absolutely, it's correct to say that the federal government cancelled the national affordable housing program back in 1993, and as a result of that, our country lost more than half a million units of affordable housing. Quebec and British Columbia were the only provinces that carried on with housing initiatives. Consequently, we have the crisis we have today, even before COVID-19.
In dealing with the situation, while it is good that some monies went out from reaching home to some community groups, I also want to note that many other organizations that do not receive funding from the government did not receive any support and, consequently, were struggling to find personal protective equipment and other measures to support people in need of housing.
Going forward, what are your thoughts with respect to the national housing co-investment fund? As it stands, it is hugely stuck in the bureaucracy. Many of the projects didn't get approved. If we're to build 300,000 units of affordable housing, Mr. Richter, what do we need to do to fix the situation so that we can get the housing actually built on the ground?
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you for the invitation to present to the committee today.
My name is Tim Ross, and I'm the executive director of the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada. CHF Canada is the national voice of the co-operative housing movement, representing over 2,200 housing co-operatives, home to over a quarter of a million people in every province and territory.
Before I begin, I just want to take a moment to recognize our current social context and acknowledge that co-operatives are built on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. It is with that value of solidarity that I say as long as systemic racism exists in our communities, we must and we will work to dismantle this injustice. We, as a sector, stand with individuals and communities affected by systemic racism, violence and discrimination, including police brutality against black individuals, people of colour and indigenous people here in Canada.
Now I will move on to the subject of your study. COVID-19 has reminded us that a safe, secure home is the foundation on which we build our lives, and not all Canadians had this prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. We have seen how this pandemic has also brought to the surface the social and economic inequities that have been invisible or not prioritized here in Canada.
When it comes to housing options, people often know they can buy and they can rent, but there is another choice out there that's underutilized, and that is co-operative housing. Housing co-operatives provide secure, at-cost housing for people of diverse backgrounds and incomes who work together democratically to make decisions about their housing. Housing co-operatives are owned by their members. They provide security of tenure and they are affordable forever. For example, I am speaking to you here in Ottawa, where a two-bedroom apartment costs, on average, well over $1,400 a month. A two-bedroom apartment in a co-operative in Ottawa costs approximately $1,000 per month.
In my report I'll inform the committee how the co-op housing sector has been affected by COVID-19 and provide some recommendations on how to curb the socio-economic devastation brought on by this pandemic.
As a general headline, housing co-operatives are weathering this storm. Because of their community focus, housing co-operatives, by design, are strong communities. They are able to weather economic and social hardship, and anecdotally across our membership we've heard that housing charges, or rental arrears, have remained manageable in March, April and May of this year. We believe this is evidence that the CERB and other income assistance programs are working and reaching the people in need to help them pay for rent and other necessities.
CHF Canada and our partners will continue to monitor these trends in the coming months as the economy slowly starts to reopen across the country.
Co-operatives in Canada and around the world adhere to seven central business principles, making them distinct from other businesses. One of those principles is concern for community. We have seen people taking this principle very seriously during this health crisis. We have heard countless stories of members checking in on each other, particularly their most vulnerable neighbours and the elderly, running errands, picking up groceries and prescriptions, coordinating child care and assisting in countless other ways through their strong community bonds.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, CHF Canada's top priority has been the health and safety of our members and supporting their social and economic stability through COVID-19.
CHF Canada supports the significant steps the federal government has taken to flatten the curve and contain the threat of COVID-19, while also limiting its impact on the social and economic welfare of people in communities. We also appreciate that CMHC's early outreach, specifically to the community housing sector, was to commit very early on to doing what it can within its mandate to ensure no housing loss in community housing during COVID-19.
We also applaud the government's introduction of the various emergency income response programs such as the Canada emergency response benefit. Since the beginning of the pandemic CHF Canada has advised co-op members who could pay their housing charges to do so in order to protect the financial stability of their co-operative homes.
COVID-19 has already highlighted what we already know: The current housing market does not address the housing needs of all Canadian families. Without sustainable action and investment in affordable housing, the disparities in our communities will only deepen and worsen, especially as eviction bans are lifted and emergency support funding ceases.
CHF Canada is recommending that the federal government prioritize investments in housing as a part of its COVID-19 response and recovery plan. Further to that, we recommend that the federal government put housing at the centre of its health, social and economic response and recovery work. To that end, I have a couple of specific recommendations.
Recommendation one is relative to income or rental assistance. Let's recognize that COVID-19 is a global pandemic. COVID-19 is a pan-Canadian pandemic and the economic, social and health impacts are being felt from coast to coast to coast. We need federal leadership to prevent housing loss due to COVID-19 both during the response and during the recovery period to COVID-19.
Yes, we all know that housing is under the jurisdiction of provinces and territories; however, the socio-economic devastation from COVID-19 is universal and requires federal leadership and investment to prevent housing loss. We need to make sure the deferred rents of today don't become evictions of tomorrow, and we need strong income supports now and in the recovery phase to prevent housing loss.
The second recommendation is relative to supply. We encourage the federal government to support the development of non-market, non-profit co-operative housing through both development and acquisition, and that includes housing co-operatives. Housing really does need to be the focal point of any social and economic recovery plan, and investment in affordable and co-op housing is not a radical idea.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Canada developed many programs that successfully started most of the co-ops that exist today, sprouting up in every province and territory. These federal programs were cut in the 1990s or devolved to provinces, creating a shortage of affordable homes. Had these programs continued at their prior rate of growth and development, we'd have half a million more affordable homes across the country and people would be able to weather the storm more effectively. Instead, we have what has already been reported by my colleague Tim Richter, a severe net loss of affordable rentals due to the financialization of housing following the 2008 recession. Let's learn from that recession and not make the same mistakes again.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not comment on the devastating loss of life among elders in long-term care. In terms of our members and members of housing co-ops across the country, we're very committed to aging in place for our elderly members. Co-ops have been helping to adapt to the changing needs of members as they age in place so that they can stay independent and autonomous in their strong community. With the need continuing to grow for low-cost housing options for seniors, we recommend that the government consider investments in aging in place for housing providers such as co-ops.
Considering the broad system impacts of our recommendations, it's paramount to take an integrated approach to the economic recovery planning in partnership with all levels of government, as well as sector organizations with community-based housing experience and expertise.
The co-op housing sector is well poised to work closely with public, private and non-profit partners to build the critical socio-economic infrastructure needed to meet the pre-existing and growing housing needs in our communities. Our movement is resourceful, passionate and dedicated to a future with more co-operatives as a housing option that are open, sustainable and strong.
Amidst the significant level of public spending in response to COVID-19, investing in long-term solutions that support community well-being must be a top priority in economic recovery planning. This is the time for ambitious public investments in people and communities, and this is the time to invest in more non-market, not-for-profit housing, including co-operatives, across the country.
I really appreciate and thank you for the invitation to be here today. I'll conclude on that statement, and I look forward to questions and dialogue.
Thank you very much.
I'm the president and CEO of Namerind Housing Corporation, as well as the chair of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association's indigenous housing caucus. We have a membership of around 140 indigenous housing and service providers from across Canada. Namerind is an indigenous non-profit housing provider here in Regina.
Our mission is to provide safe and affordable quality housing and economic development opportunities for indigenous people in Regina.
In 1977, our community determined a great need for affordable housing for indigenous people. Supply was an issue, but so was discrimination. We decided to take care of our own. Since then, that goal has led us on a journey that now includes so much more than a roof over the heads of our tenants. We are giving opportunity back to the indigenous community—the opportunity to create jobs, to create wealth and to create a sense of ownership. We focus on the importance of each staff member as an integral part of this team—first nations, Métis, and non-native and visible minorities.
We have also created community partnerships to better the broader Regina community. Together we believe we can provide safe, affordable and self-sustained housing to all those in need.
We wholeheartedly support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's principles as well as its calls to action. Reconciliation requires political will, joint leadership, trust building, accountability and transparency. As Canadians, we share the responsibility for establishing and maintaining mutually respectful relationships. We have to be honest about where we are.
My focus today is on Regina's indigenous homeless population. The most recent point-in-time count of homeless people in Regina was done in 2018. Though indigenous people make up 9% of Regina's population, they are 79% of the homeless population. Across Canada, indigenous people are struggling and homeless. In the same year, a point-in-time count was done in Toronto. In the general population, indigenous people represent 1% to 2.5%. They are 16% of the homeless population there and 38% of the outdoor population.
Regina's shelters are of the typical dormitory style with as many beds per square foot as possible, and they are full. Why are indigenous homeless people not sleeping in shelters? Why are so many of them on the streets of Regina, or the streets of Toronto for that matter? Many of our people struggle with mental health and dependency issues. The ensuing chaos makes it unlikely they will be organized enough to get a bed, but that is true of many non-indigenous people as well.
Where our people are sadly unique is in that we have grown up with the unimaginable damage that we, our parents and our grandparents have endured in residential schools. We grew up and shared their pain. The images are seared in all of our brains. When I think of residential schools, I see in my mind pictures of terrified indigenous kids in dormitories. For us, shelters aren't merely grim. They trigger despair.
It's really hard to be homeless in Regina. We saw a young indigenous man walking down the street in Regina on one of our coldest days in January of this year, just as we were starting to wrap our heads around COVID-19. It was -43°C, and he was dragging two shopping carts. Everybody drove by. We were in shock that anyone was walking outside in such cold temperatures.
We called our maintenance workers to pick up him and his belongings and to bring him back to our office. We tried reaching out to numerous shelters to no avail. Because it was two p.m., we could not use the after-hours line of social services. Every line we called told us to call somewhere else. It was frustrating. We gave him a furnished apartment, for which we reduced his rent, and we got him a telephone so he was able to make appointments.
Over the next four months, we worked with this young man to keep a roof over his head, to attend appointments and to start building a relationship with his mother. He applied for social assistance for his rent in February and finally received a payment on April 29. I'm not sure where anyone could live without rent payment for four months. This is the reason people remain homeless in Regina.
It is also hard to help a homeless person. Resources are scarce or non-existent. Existing shelters offer help for tonight but not for tomorrow. Prior to this young man getting help from Namerind, he spent his days walking the city. He slept in banks at night. He ate from garbage cans and shared the food he found with other homeless people. In order to stay warm, he would plug in a toaster oven and that's how he kept his hands warm. He's still our tenant and this young man and his mother are beyond grateful for the help that we've given them.
Our sense is now that the number of indigenous people who are homeless in Regina is much bigger since the onset of COVID-19. We see elders, mothers and kids that COVID-19 has forced onto the streets. They were precariously housed before and have been forced to leave by anxious hosts. We certainly are not used to seeing them in such numbers. They have nowhere to go. The places they accessed for food were closed for many weeks because of COVID. Donations were left outside and frequently plundered so nothing was left. We see long lines of indigenous elders, moms and kids lined up at churches for dinner. For many of them, it's the only meal they get that day.
COVID-19 has laid bare the magnitude of the problem. Our five shelters were not prepared for social distancing. How could they be when the design of those shelters was to fit in as many bodies as possible. Some of them simply closed during the early weeks of emergency measures.
Namerind is in the business of housing indigenous people. We could see right away what was badly needed and we knew we could help. We need a capital investment to provide transitional, transformational private accommodation with priority given to elders, women and children.
Housing is our business, so we quickly found a suitable downtown site for sale that could be easily refurbished. It has a commercial kitchen and dining area. Because it is a motel, there are plenty of individual rooms that can provide social distancing in the short run and privacy in the long run. We will need a directly funded service provider to run the facility and provide appropriate services. Our goal is to welcome the residents to a Namerind apartment or house when they are ready. Our transitional housing will truly be transformational. Unlike shelters, we will work with partners to put mental health and addiction supports in place. We want our people to recover, not just have a roof over their heads.
We have two recommendations. Canada needs to recognize that 87% of indigenous people live in Canada's cities. They deserve a housing program that addresses their needs. The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association's indigenous caucus has recommended that the federal government introduce an urban, rural and northern indigenous housing strategy.
Recommendation two is to provide $2 million to Namerind Housing to purchase 1009 Albert Street in Regina, so it can be converted into COVID-compliant indigenous transitional housing.
In summary, Regina has an indigenous homelessness crisis. It's hard to be homeless in Regina. COVID-19 laid bare the shortcomings of the existing shelter system and forced elders, moms and kids onto the streets. The legacy of residential housing means indigenous people are more at risk, and they reject dormitory housing. We have a plan to help.
You have my apologies. Of course, the one time my computer and Internet would go down would be right now, so this is what we call improvisation.
As some of you know, the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association is the national association representing the social non-profit and affordable housing sector in Canada. I'm very pleased to be joined by board member Robert Byers, whom you've just heard from.
I would add that during this pandemic, social and non-profit housing providers have played a vital role, often under the radar and rarely acknowledged by the media. Housing providers have maintained safe and affordable housing for approximately 600,000 households across the country, many of which are low income or vulnerable. They've worked with community advisory boards and local governments to secure short-term housing solutions for homeless populations, which has been aided by the one-time $157 million in extra financing provided through the reaching home program.
Housing providers have provided a range of social supports and services to tenants, often at great personal risk given that the access to personal protective equipment for providers has been a significant problem. They've worked with tenants to find solutions to loss of income or employment such that no tenant has been forced to leave due to an inability to pay rent. As an example, in British Columbia, a survey of housing providers was done that indicated that 46% of housing providers in the province had deferred or waived rent for some of those tenants.
Despite this good work, housing providers are of course being impacted by the pandemic. Based on some surveys and feedback we've received, there have been a couple of quick lessons we've learned. For example, the number of units in arrears or units unable to pay rent has actually been relatively low, about 10% to 15%. This is because, in part, seniors who live in some of these units are living on fixed incomes, and therefore, the pandemic has had a limited financial impact. As well, federal support programs such as CERB have helped mitigate the impact.
Another reason, though, that arrears have been so low is that many units in non-profit housing are a rent-geared-to-income model, meaning that rents are calculated as a proportion of a person's income. As a person's income goes down due to impacts such as loss of employment, the rent they pay goes down. Although this assists the tenant, it has a negative financial impact for the housing provider, as their total revenue also goes down.
A final difficulty faced by providers is that many units are in fact sitting vacant. Because of physical distancing and cleansing requirements, housing providers are often not able to rent out units to prospective tenants during this period. Quebec has said this is a problem. In B.C., that aforementioned survey I referenced, 17% of respondents indicated that they were experiencing vacancies due to the pandemic, which not only reduces income but of course reduces housing.
Absolutely, and thanks for the question.
We know that as co-ops come to the end of their operating agreements and their first mortgages there are two really big things that happen.
One is that low-income households living in housing co-operatives lose the rental assistance subsidy that allows them to stay affordably housed. That's why it has been the focus of our movement to campaign for the renewal of rental assistance programs, or the creation of new rental assistance programs, which have come in as a part of the national housing strategy through the federal community housing initiative and the Canada community housing initiative. The delivery of those programs has not been uniform across the different provinces and territories, so there's a lot to be preoccupied and concerned about there.
The second piece is that we're talking about 30- or 40-year-old buildings. Some of these were actually acquisitions and rehabilitations, so they require significant reinvestments for modernization. What we've done as a sector is create financing programs to link co-ops up with their credit unions to do a long-term asset management plan and to finance long-term modernization and repair.
Once the preoccupation with rental assistance for low-income households is addressed and resolved, once the repair and renewal question is resolved—and through our programming across the sector, we've already tapped into about $130 million in credit union lending to help with the modernization of co-operatives—we also have some capacity, as we have seen within some of our members, to look to buy some land, acquire something and build something new. We're just on the cusp of this new wave of growth of housing co-operatives.
However, it is a highly competitive and expensive housing market out there, and we're really outbid and out-positioned by the big guys. That makes it really hard to develop new autonomously owned, locally owned, co-operative homes.
I would like to thank all the witnesses for coming today and for all the work you're doing.
I wanted to make a quick note. Mr. Ross, I completely agree with you regarding community bonds. I see this definitely in a rural riding. Having other people in the community, even in a non-housing way, is so important for the health of people, including their mental health.
Mr. Byers, I also wanted to make a comment to you. I was a social worker previously, so one thing that actually led me into politics was having an influence on the macro, being able to dismantle some of that red tape, because I have been on the phone with social services, whether it was Alberta or Saskatchewan, and had them saying, “It's not my issue.” It gets very frustrating at the end of the day.
I would like to direct my first question to Jeff Morrison, with the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association. I know in your open letter to on May 13 you made the point that affordable housing should be a key component of a post-pandemic economic response. In that letter you mentioned simplifying and expanding existing programs, like the federal lands initiative. This is a federal program that can certainly be utilized to help tackle affordable housing.
During the election we put forward a proposal to make surplus federal real estate available for affordable housing, to reinvigorate the federal lands initiative and to reward municipalities that cut red tape for home building. I'm wondering, in your view, what role the federal lands initiative could play in responding to housing needs. How could this program be reformed or reinvested in to better respond to the current housing needs?