2023 Fall Economic Statement: Renaming Failing Housing Programs No Substitute for Changing Them



I would agree with Ray Sullivan, head of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, when he gave a “C-“ to the housing chapter of the Fall Economic Statement.

There were a few small new gestures towards expanding affordable housing, mainly extending the GST exemption for new purpose-built rental announced last month to co-ops. Yet the Co-operative Development Program, announced in the same 2022 Budget as the Housing Accelerator Fund, remains unimplemented, even as HAF is rolled out across the country.

The federal government is caught in a trap of its own making. Its National Housing Strategy, meant to provide relatively stable and long-term funding stream over the 2018-2028 decade towards stated targets of ending chronic homelessness and reducing core housing need, is headlined by two programs that make minimal progress towards those targets. Only 3% of the homes created by the Rental Construction Finance Initiative, by far the largest initiative, are suitable and affordable to those who are in core housing need, let alone homeless people. Yet this is the program that received an additional $15 billion in the Fall Economic Statement. Meanwhile, the Rapid Housing Initiative, the only NHS supply program that was actually meeting the needs of those who are homeless, remains a series of one-off announcements rather than an ongoing program. It was not referenced in the Fall Economic Statement. Both the Rental Construction Fund and the much smaller National Housing Co-Investment Fund, whose program creates short-term affordability for about a third of homes created (and which received a $1 billion boost in the Fall Economic Statement), have been given new names. Re-naming failing programs is no substitute for revising them.

Homeowners facing difficult refinancing situations can have their mortgage amortization periods extended, using CMHC mortgage guarantees. Yet rent banks and other simple eviction prevention mechanisms (such as clamping down on excessive rent increases in provinces without adequate renter protection) are not mentioned, despite tenants being three times as likely as homeowners to be in core housing need (and tenants being the same proportion of Canadian households as owners with mortgages: about a third each tenants, homeowners with and without mortgages). Once again, homeowners receive preferential treatment from federal programs.

The National Housing Act (2019) commits all governments in Canada to “focus on improving outcomes for those in greatest need”.  Yet the Fall Economic Statement continues the overall trend of a government that treats aggregate supply as a panacea, with inadequate non-market alternatives for the estimated three million Canadian households in ‘official’ core housing need, as well as those (students, homeless people, those involuntarily ‘doubling up’ or ‘driving until they qualify’) who simply ‘don’t count’ in housing statistics. This is not the ‘re-set’ that the Liberal minority government needs right now on the number one issue for Canadians.