Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/10/2014 (1855 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With municipal elections happening this fall in four of Canada's 10 provinces, we should hear more about the need for affordable housing.
More than 180 Canadian municipalities representing more than 60 per cent of the Canadian population have passed resolutions supporting the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' 2013 Fixing Canada's Housing Crunch campaign. The campaign calls for all three levels of government to work together to develop a long-term plan that addresses the high cost of housing in Canada and the inability of far too many Canadians to find an affordable place to live.
The campaign is particularly timely in light of the looming crisis facing affordable housing in general and co-operative housing in particular. Within the next three years, 155 federal agreements providing support to low-income residents of housing co-ops will come to an end. And between now and 2021, federal rent-geared-to-income housing assistance derived from agreements signed with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation will also pass into history. As a result, some 50,000 low- and fixed-income Canadians, including approximately 1,200 people in Winnipeg, now living in co-op housing will be unable to pay their rent.
It's ironic housing co-ops should be at risk at a time when the need for more affordable housing is greater than ever. An estimated 13 per cent of Canadian households experience what we call core housing need, which means they cannot locally access a home in good condition that costs less than 30 per cent of their before-tax household income and fits the household size. Seniors, lone-parent families and people with disabilities are particularly at risk.
But people, not statistics, tell the real story. For low-income Canadians, living in co-op housing is more than about having a roof over their heads; it's about being part of a vibrant, democratic, mixed-income community. This diversity is one of the things that distinguish co-ops from other forms of community housing; another is their democratic nature — co-op members are expected to be stewards of their co-op's business. In that way, co-ops foster the personal development of their members, giving them skills they might not otherwise acquire.
When you talk to co-op housing residents, which I do almost every day, you can witness the impact their co-ops have had on their lives and the fear and uncertainty they feel about the future. Jan, a 51-year-old woman who lives in an affected federal co-op, is thankful for the opportunities her co-op community has given to her family. But she's afraid there will be no place at all for her to live if federal support programs don't continue. There are many people like Jan in hundreds of communities across Canada, and all the talk in the world won't change their situation.
The Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada proposes housing co-ops and all three levels of government work together to maintain, if not expand, access to co-op housing for low-income Canadians. Such a program would be a partnership between government and the co-operative sector; housing co-ops do not need taxpayers' support for maintaining, modernizing and repairing their buildings, but governments need to continue to subsidize rents for low-income residents.
This partnership — perhaps co-funded by the federal and provincial governments and delivered by either provinces or municipalities — would ensure we continue to have successful and secure co-op communities.
Across Canada, this program would cost very little (approximately $4,500 per year for the average household). Any new money would only come into play once the existing agreements expire. That's not too high a price to pay so that nearly 1,200 vulnerable people in Winnipeg can have decent, affordable housing.
Instead of just talking to voters about affordable housing, our politicians at all levels of government should be talking to each other — and taking action. It's time for a national conversation about real solutions to the housing crisis, and housing co-ops have a lot to contribute to that discussion.
When headed to the polls, think about Jan and the many others like her who face a frightening and uncertain future. Make politicians accountable — and turn all that talk about affordable housing into reality.
Nicholas Gazzard is executive director of the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada.