An adequate supply of safe, affordable and appropriate housing is a prerequisite to truly ending homelessness in the long term. This includes ensuring that people who are chronically and episodically homeless are prioritized and that systems are in place to enable such persons to receive housing and supports through Housing First programs. In a tight housing market, implementing a Housing First agenda becomes that much more challenging. It is also important to address the supply of affordable housing, in order to broaden access for other priority populations, including women fleeing violence, Aboriginal Peoples, families, seniors and youth, for instance.
Ultimately, addressing Canada’s housing crisis comes down to money, which then begs the question about our national priorities.
Canadian homeowners enjoy over $8.6 billion in annual tax and other benefits. This kind of investment in home ownership is important because it benefits millions of middle-income households.
Spending on affordable housing for Canada’s poorest households however, is less than one quarter of that invested in homeownership, approximately $2.1 billion per year and has declined quite dramatically over the past 25 years.
Ironically, it costs more to ignore our housing problem than it would to fix it. Consider the estimate that homelessness alone costs the Canadian economy over $7 billion per year. While the Government of Canada invests $119 million annually to address homelessness through the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (provinces and municipalities also invest), this is not sufficient to address the problem and as a result has not led to a noticeable reduction in homelessness.
By not investing adequately in housing for the poorest Canadians, health care, justice and other taxpayer-funded costs increase.
Put another way, as Canadians, we are spending more money on people who do not need help compared to those in greatest need. And by not spending on those in greatest need, we are not only creating hardship for many Canadian families, we are creating a considerably larger expense for the Canadian economy.
We can do things differently. In the State of Homelessness in Canada 2014, we propose a robust housing investment strategy that would cost the economy much less than the current costs of homelessness. The key elements of our strategy include the following proposals: