Alistair MacGregor column: Housing is a human right; time to act like it

In a country as prosperous as ours, people should not be struggling to find affordable housing.

By Alistair MacGregor

In 1976, Canada ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognized the right to housing. Over 40 years later, we don’t have to look far to see the national housing crisis Canada is facing. Rising rents, a shortage of rental housing, the federal government’s withdrawal from funding social housing, and the growing number of homeless people are just a few examples of the causes and effects of this crisis.

In a country as prosperous as ours, people should not be struggling to find safe, secure, affordable housing. Canadians are too often forced to choose between basic needs they must meet to survive. It is completely unacceptable that a person must choose between buying groceries, taking their prescribed medications, and paying their rent.

There are currently 1.7 million Canadian families that still don’t have access to adequate housing, and it is estimated that between 150,000 and 300,000 individuals experience homelessness in Canada every year. Census data from 2016 shows that nearly a quarter of Canadian families (24.1 per cent) are spending more than 30 per cent of their household income toward housing. The Cowichan Housing Association’s 2017 Summer Point-in-Time Homeless Count recorded 89 adults and youth in absolute homelessness and 61 in hidden homelessness, staying in transitional housing, with a friend or a relative, or in substandard housing just in the Cowichan region alone.

I commend the current federal government for announcing a National Housing Strategy last November, something that the NDP has been advocating for decades. Forty billion dollars will be spent over 10 years, but it won’t begin until 2019. And, with the upcoming election, it is quite possible we will never see this money where it is so desperately needed. Advocates have also criticized the strategy as too timid, such as the pledge to reduce chronic shelter usage in half by the year 2026. Canada should have set a much more ambitious target.

The City of Langford has taken bold action in creating affordable housing with the council’s “inclusionary zoning requirement” policy which allows a choice between providing a $1,000 contribution for every single family equivalent dwelling unit created by rezoning to the City’s Affordable Housing Reserve Fund or constructing one new affordable home for every 15 single-family lots subdivided. However, supply still doesn’t meet demand.

Safe, secure, and affordable housing is so fundamentally important for the future of Canadian families. People without adequate housing will continue to have trouble managing their daily lives. The stress of their situation can have profound negative effects on their mental and physical health. The housing affordability crisis in Canada has harsher implications for the most vulnerable members of our society, including single-parent families, seniors living alone, Indigenous households living on or off reserve, and recent immigrants.

I am pleased to see that we finally have a National Housing Strategy. However, with almost all the federal funding being earmarked for after the 2019 election, I am concerned that we will not see this strategy materialize. It is well past time that we legislate the right to housing, so future governments cannot again turn their back on or ignore some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

Alistair MacGregor is the Member of Parliament for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford.

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