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Opinion: Just announced: more statistically meaningless additions to the affordable housing supply

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Sometimes the theatre of politics just makes me want to cry.

The most recent political production that made me grab a box of tissues occurred on Jan. 19, when the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) issued a press release announcing a new affordable housing project in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta.

The project will create 83 units of affordable housing and will be move-in ready later this year. 

The press release includes chest-thumping quotes from five elected officials. Four of which are federal ministers. This is the quote that stood out most to me: “This is the National Housing Strategy hard at work, and we will continue to do our part to ensure that everyone has a safe, and reliable roof over their heads.” This quote is attributed to Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion.

The National Housing Strategy (NHS) that Hussen referenced is a 10-year plan with $72 billion in designated funding and was first announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government in 2017. 

The actual goal of the NHS seems to depend on who is asked or what you read. According to the quote from Minister Hussen, the goal of the NHS is to ensure everyone has a roof over their head. According to the NHS website however, the NHS only aims to “cut chronic homelessness in half,” remove 530,000 families from housing need, renovate and modernize 300,000 homes, and build 160,000 new homes.

When you read the National Housing Strategy Act, the goal of the NHS becomes even more vague. In the act, the Government of Canada declares that “the right to adequate housing is a fundamental human right,” and that, “housing is essential to the inherent dignity and well-being of the person.”

So, the federal government has declared that housing is a fundamental human right, but the housing strategy doesn’t actually aim to ensure everybody in this country has access to housing. 

If the $72 billion from the federal government and the assorted additional funding from provincial and municipal governments isn’t enough to eliminate the supply gap of affordable housing in Canada, then just how big is the gap?

According to a CBC article from November 2021, there are over 24,000 Albertan households on the waiting list for affordable housing. 

The project announced in Fort Saskatchewan that will create 83 units of affordable housing is possible thanks to $17.3 million in funding. Some basic math tells us that each unit carries a price tag of $208,434. 

If we pretend that $208,434 is the uniform price for affordable housing units (it isn’t, many projects are cheaper), and we apply that price to create 24,000 units, we would need over $5 trillion in funding to get everybody into an affordable home, just in Alberta. 

But there’s still more problems. According to this article published by Taproot, there are 55,000 “Edmontonians who are in core housing need, which is when someone is living in housing that falls below the standards of adequacy because it’s in need of major repairs, isn’t affordable for the tenants, or isn’t suitable due to overcrowding or too few bedrooms for the number of people living there.”

Sigh. $72 billion dollars seems like such a massive amount of money. If it’s seemingly not enough money to ensure everyone in even one province is able to live in adequate housing, let alone every citizen in need across the country, how could we allow the supply gap to get so big? 

How dare we allow the supply gap to get so big.

These elected officials are whispering sweet-nothings in their press releases when they announce the statistically meaningless additions to the affordable housing supply. Meanwhile, the homeless population continues to rise, inflation and cost of living continue to rise, the pandemic rages on, and the mass amounts of Canadians who recently took on variable rate mortgages are about to see their monthly payments spike — payments that could possibly become unaffordable for some new homeowners. All of those situations and more will make the waitlist for affordable housing in Alberta, and everywhere else in Canada, even longer.

The NHS website states that the strategy has “ambitious targets.” Ambitious certainly isn’t the word I would use. 

Our national housing strategy doesn’t aim to ensure everyone is adequately housed even though our federal government declared that housing is a fundamental right. That makes me want to cry some more.

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