Addressing Canada’s Lack of Affordable Housing

The 1990s may well have represented the peak of neoliberalism in Canada, and pressure had mounted on senior levels of government to cut spending, not increase it. The focus was on eliminating deficits and debts, not adding to them. Times have changed somewhat. The federal debt in Canada is almost never talked about now. Tax cuts are not as popular. Canadians and their leaders appear to have taken note that neoliberalism came with a cost, and that it may be time to start rebuilding, so to speak. One of the first signs that the federal government was interested in getting back into affordable housing was the 1999 announcement of the Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative (SCPI). Since 2000, SCPI has provided approximately $850 million in funding for “strategic investments that address homelessness.” Then, in November 2001, after almost a decade of withdrawal from assistance for affordable housing, the federal government committed $680 million towards rental housing (to be spent over five years). Roughly 18 months later, it added another $320 million. And when the leader of Canada’s NDP agreed to support the federal budget in 2005, one of his chief demands--an additional $1.6 billion for affordable housing—was met. The Harper government has since allocated most of the $1.6 billion into three housing trust funds. More recently, it has extended SCPI for two additional years.2 Indeed, the money is starting to flow—albeit far too slowly as far as a lot of affordable housing advocates are concerned. And so now a big question is: how exactly should governments go about spending this new money? Indeed, while there is 3 agreement that we have neglected affordable housing, not a great deal of public dialogue has taken place on how exactly this money—as well as any future money--should be spent.

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