Each year, November 22 is set aside to commemorate National Housing Day, recognizing that housing is needed for well-being and for participation in the economy and society. Today, with more than 1.5 million Canadians desperately needing housing, this is hardly an occasion to celebrate. Rather, this day reminds us of the need for affordable housing and challenges governments to act with determination to provide the necessary funding and infrastructure to create housing for all.
In Canada, the lack of decent and affordable housing is generating a wave of homelessness and creating barriers for people to live responsibly and build healthy communities. The recent October 2007 preliminary report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing showed that Canada is facing a national housing and homelessness crisis.
In this context, governments have a responsibility to assist their citizens and contribute to the well-being of communities by investing in affordable housing. While a collaborative effort of all levels of government is needed to successfully tackle housing insecurity and homelessness, the federal government must play a leadership role to ensure that respect for human well-being becomes a priority in policy development. It is imperative that social well-being comes before economic growth and financial prosperity when formulating budgets and policies.
The federal government’s Homelessness Partnership Initiative, which allocates $269.6 million over two years to prevent and reduce homelessness, is a step forward in addressing housing insecurity. However, this one-time allocation of funds will not be effective in the long run, for there is no way to ensure that the outcomes will address the root causes of homelessness. Communities cannot count on sustained funding to create affordable housing as needs develop. The result is a short-term crisis management approach instead of a long-term strategic plan with timelines and targets.
Accountability is needed to ensure funds are being used to provide people with access to affordable and supportive housing. While provinces and communities should be accountable for the money transferred to them to meet specific housing needs, the federal government should also be a responsible leader by requiring accountability for the outcomes of sustained funding.
Any long term solution to housing must address poverty, since housing insecurity is linked to income insecurity. It is important to recognize the direct relationship between poverty and the affordability of housing, especially as increasing housing market values take up more of incomes that stay the same. Simply having a job doesn’t mean you can keep a roof over your head. Income security is needed to relieve low-income Canadians from having to make hard economic choices between food and housing.
Poverty is a root cause of homelessness and it includes a lack of livable income to meet basic needs such as housing and to live in dignity. Children, women, recent immigrants, and Aboriginals are more likely to be disadvantaged by the effects of deepening poverty and the challenges of securing adequate housing. Public justice calls governments to pay special attention to marginalized people and respond accordingly to their needs. In this sense, CPJ recognizes that housing must be placed in an integrated view of addressing poverty and that government should work toward a comprehensive national poverty reduction strategy that addresses housing and income as part of a holistic approach.
Housing and homelessness are complex issues that require open and honest dialogues between governments and all other sectors of society in formulating budget and policy plans. Recently, CPJ met with Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day to discuss issues of housing and homelessness. CPJ was encouraged to see a welcoming invitation to contribute to the dialogue on housing. As responsible citizens, we must engage political leaders and keep public justice front and centre.
Perhaps a way to move forward is by creating an integrated housing and poverty reduction strategy. In the recent Throne Speech, the federal government promised to "invest in our families and our future, and help those seeking to break free from the cycles of homelessness and poverty." In order to make this promise a reality, the government must work alongside provinces, municipalities, developers and non-profit groups to ensure housing for all. Indeed, we need to work toward a just society where everyone has a sense of belonging and a place to call home.