While Monday’s tabled federal budget commits to important investments in Canada’s National Housing Strategy, it lacks the urgency and depth of funding needed to tackle and end homelessness for everyone. Below is the network’s analysis of Budget 2021.
Each wave of the pandemic is intensifying the experience of homelessness and housing precarity for people across the country. The growing canyon between the rich and poor since the onset of COVID-19 continues to erode the sentiment that “we’re all in this together.” The “stay home” measures magnify the massive inequities people already marginalized by the system face, especially racialized communities, women, 2SLGBTQQIA communities, and people with disabilities who do not have their basic right to housing met.
But for those paying attention, the pandemic also posed an opportunity; when housing became synonymous with healthcare, it captured the attention of over 70% of Canadians who believed it urgent to end homelessness—and 84% supporting investments in meaningful affordable housing to make it happen. The pandemic exposed modern mass homelessness as the urgent crisis it has always been for over 235,000 Canadians every year. There could be no return to normal. An ambitious economic recovery plan and strategy became necessary to meet the federal government’s September Throne Speech commitment to eliminate chronic homelessness.
And yet, the federal budget tabled on Monday missed this historic chance to capitalize on the mainstream support to end homelessness with the bold investments required to do it. It lacks urgency and capital to meaningfully address the crisis.
Instead, the budget overwhelmingly focused on the middle class. While there are positive aspects about the budget—such as expanding the National Housing Strategy with investments of over $2.5 billion in new funding, an additional $1.3 billion moved forward in previous housing investment promises, and a $45 million pilot project to address veteran homelessness—it fails to deliver an Urban Indigenous Housing Strategy, it does not reflect the unique ways in which women experience homelessness, and it does not provide enough by way of rental supplement funding, nor does it make this funding accessible enough for those living below the poverty line.
Canada would need to build 300,000 new deep subsidy, permanently affordable and supportive housing units—ensuring those units are specifically earmarked for people experiencing or at greatest risk of homelessness. However, the budget only aims to create up to 160,000 units of affordable housing over a decade. What claims to be “affordable” in this case will, in reality, be out of reach for many people experiencing homelessness or core housing need.
The additional $315.4 million investment in the Canadian Housing Benefit over seven years will also not do enough to support those in core housing need and homelessness. While meant to increase direct financial assistance for rent payments to low-income women and children fleeing violence, these rent supplements are not enough. This does not reflect the unique ways in which women experience homelessness and ignores the many women who do not access the domestic violence system, and are therefore rendered invisible. In order to prevent housing loss for those at-risk of homelessness, the number of rental supplements given must be increased, and the program must be expanded to apply to individuals on income assistance and low-income earners.
Considering how housing intersects with all aspects of life—and is widely understood to be a social determinant of health–it is unacceptable that so little was allocated to housing in comparison to the rest of the federal budget. The $3.8 billion announced to address housing and homelessness is not enough to tackle colonization, white supremacy, ableism, or patriarchal oppression–all of which are issues that drive and compound homelessness and housing insecurity.
The focus on the middle class may also explain why, rather than proposing a Universal Basic Income, the government instead opted for the $15 minimum wage—which does not meet the standard of a livable income or guarantee people can access affordable housing given the high cost of living in many urban and rural Canadian centres. A living wage or Universal Basic Income would stand to benefit Canadians experiencing homelessness more directly by better addressing the economic crisis many languish in because they cannot afford basic necessities to get them out of the cycle of poverty.
It is commendable that the government has more than doubled funding for Reaching Home throughout the pandemic and has committed to eliminating chronic homelessness. But in order to rectify the decades of policy and divestment in truly affordable housing that resulted in modern mass homelessness as we know it, the government must focus on how it can more effectively invest in long-term solutions at a cadence and magnitude that will actually upend chronic homelessness.
In addition, one notable exclusion to Budget 2021 is any reference to consultation, collaboration, or commitment to leadership by people with lived experience of homelessness or housing insecurity. Now, more than ever, our voices as people with intimate lived knowledge of systemic, programmatic, and policy failure are being recognized for their value in efforts to bring change. In other areas of the budget, we see attention being paid to the value of lived experience advocacy, but it is concerning that those who have experienced homelessness are not afforded this same consideration and dignity.
This budget promises incredible spending measures to help Canadians recover from the dire impacts of COVID-19—but it does not do enough to bolster housing that is accessible for those in the most need: people experiencing homelessness and housing precarity. The Canadian Lived Experience Leadership Network has worked tirelessly for years to advocate for people with lived experience of homelessness. We will continue to engage our federal government, policy makers, and program and service providers to ensure that the National Housing Strategy supports the end to homelessness and housing precarity in Canada for everyone, once and for all.