Hundreds of Demonstrators Call on Stephen Harper not to drop Social Housing

Ottawa, November 27th 2013 – “The badly housed and the homeless are in dire situations – Stephen Harper must not sacrifice contributions to social housing by putting an end to the long-term federal subsidies that currently support 600,000 social housing units across Canada, including 127,000 in Quebec and 227,000 in Ontario.” said François Saillant, of the Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU), during a demonstration that ended in front of the prime minister’s offices at the Langevin Building in Ottawa. A number of red tents were pitched, illustrating the urgency of housing problems and homelessness. The event, which drew hundreds of demonstrators from across Quebec, began in front of a housing co-op in Gatineau that will soon lose its federal subsidies.

The FRAPRU demands that the Conservative government immediately commit to the continuation of subsidies that have supported Canadian low-cost housing, co-ops and non-profit housing initiatives for decades. The FRAPRU is also calling on Ottawa to fundamentally alter its approach to housing, by increasing its support for households and individuals. These demands are shared by a number of other groups across Canada, members of a brand-new coalition for the right to housing. Others actions had been held on this issue since November 22th in Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

Statistics Canada’s National Household Survey of 2011 reveals that housing conditions have seriously deteriorated. The number of Canadian households that spend more than half of their income on rent has now reached 774,000 – an 11% increase over 2006. Of those, 228,000 households are located in Quebec and 274,000 in Ontario. The situation is just as disastrous in the nation’s capital, with 21,970 tenant households in Ottawa and 7,700 in Gatineau contributing 50% or more of income to rent. The Gatineau figure represents a 29% increase since 2006.

An extremely conservative evaluation published earlier this year revealed that 200 000 people in Canada were homeless at some point over the course of the year.

The Abandonment of Social Housing

Based on Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) figures, FRAPRU affirms that the number of social housing units subsidized by the federal government has fallen by 34,000 since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister in 2006. This number will drop by another 104,000 by 2017. In 2014 and 2015 alone, approximately 39,000 housing units will be affected by these cuts.

FRAPRU believes that there is an urgent need to act before the impact becomes irreversible. Federal subsidies are an essential support for very low-income tenants living in social housing. Loss of subsidies will translate into significant rent increases. Housing, which has been subsidised for decades, will become less financially accessible to households requiring affordable housing in the future. In a worst-case scenario, the loss of federal subsidies could also lead to the privatisation of some units.

The federal government’s disengagement from existing social housing units will be all the more scandalous if the Conservative government does not switch course and invest more than the peanuts it currently spends on the renovation and construction of new housing. Jim Flaherty’s last budget confirmed that through to March 31st 2018, only $253 million per year will be devoted to the provinces and territories for renovations to existing, and the construction of new, social housing. Quebec will only receive $58 million per year over the next five years for the entirety of its housing programs, including Shelter Allowance, the construction of new social housing units, and renovation and accessibility programs. For the FRAPRU, Ottawa must turn its peanuts into a serious investment.