Group touts cure to affordable housing woes

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LOCAL activists say Canada could end its affordable housing crisis if Ottawa stopped raiding the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's profits to balance the federal budget.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/06/2015 (2723 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

LOCAL activists say Canada could end its affordable housing crisis if Ottawa stopped raiding the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s profits to balance the federal budget.

It’s an idea floated Monday that has piqued the interest of at least three local candidates running in this fall’s federal election.

Monday, the Right to Housing coalition, which includes more than 50 poverty and neighbourhood agencies, released a policy paper calling for a host of tax changes to spur the construction of more rental units. The coalition has long argued Canada’s tax code favours single-family homes over rentals.

COLIN CORNEAU / BRANDON SUN FILES Tim Sale: CMHC a 'cash cow.'

The coalition said its number-crunching suggests as many as 30,000 affordable housing units could be built every year using the CMHC’s annual profits — profits now funnelled back into federal coffers.

Until the mid-1990s, when the federal government stopped funding new social housing projects, the CMHC mandate was to create affordable units across Canada and it typically spent more money than it made. Now, the Crown agency acts almost solely as a mortgage insurer, one that earned $3.5 billion in profits last year as house prices rose nationally. Nearly half of that cash was returned to the federal government to balance Ottawa’s core budget.

Tim Sale, a coalition member and a former provincial NDP cabinet minister, said if the CMHC’s finances remain healthy and its profits are rolled back into affordable and rent-geared-to-income units, it could effectively solve Canada’s housing crisis in a decade. The cash, including billions in federal mortgage subsidies that have begun to expire, could be used to create new funding partnerships with the provinces to build thousands of new units, especially while interest rates are low.

“There are a significant number of Canadians the market can’t serve,” said Sale. “This is what the CMHC was set up to do. They don’t do any of it anymore.”

Instead, the federal Crown acts as a “cash cow” for the government, said Sale, who helped launched the policy paper Monday at an event in West Broadway.

Winnipeg South Centre Liberal candidate Jim Carr, who attended Monday’s event, said using CMHC’s profits to fund social housing is an idea worth debating, though he noted the dollar figure would be quite large.

He said the Liberals are committed to more social housing funding. The amount and mechanism through which that cash could flow will be part of a larger infrastructure policy announcement expected soon.

NDP candidate Matt Henderson, also running in Winnipeg South Centre, said the coalition’s proposal “seems to make sense…. What we’ve seen in the last 30 years is the devaluation of social housing by two different governments.”

Green candidate Andrew Park said his party believes the CMHC could be used to distribute funds to provinces to boost the supply of rental housing based on core need. He said housing infrastructure, perhaps even more than income, must be part of any national poverty reduction plan.

Winnipeg South Centre Conservative MP Joyce Bateman was not available for comment Monday.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

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Updated on Tuesday, June 23, 2015 7:28 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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