As pressure mounts on the federal government to take a more lively role in filling the housing supply gap, the minister in control of the portfolio is exploring latest — and potentially old — approaches to getting homes built.
The necessity to construct more homes to accommodate Canada’s growing population has put the federal Liberal government on the defensive in recent weeks, as opposition leader Pierre Poilievre criticizes Justin Trudeau’s government on concerns over unaffordable housing.
The national housing supply is under pressure from record levels of immigration in recent months, and plans to scale up Canada’s current pace of constructing are facing headwinds from rising rates of interest.
One in five builders said they’ve been forced to cancel entire projects in the present environment, in line with a report from the Canadian Home Builders Association released last week.
Sean Fraser, the minister newly in control of the combined housing and infrastructure portfolio, was on the University of British Columbia on Wednesday to announce funding for reasonably priced housing units within the province.
Global News asked Fraser whether the federal government was considering restoring the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s (CMHC) former mandate to construct homes itself to fill within the gap and restore affordability. The freshly minted housing minister said that was among the many “conversations” happening at once in the federal government.
The CMHC’s origins in 1946 were as a builder of housing in post-World War II era. The Crown corporation shifted away from that role to focus more on funding and research within the Eighties.
Fraser said Wednesday the Liberals wish to reverse a “complete retreat” from the housing portfolio by successive governments — Liberal and Conservative — over the past few a long time.
He said the Liberals began their return to the file with the discharge of the National Housing Strategy in 2017. But at the moment, the federal government’s programs were focused on supporting low-income and vulnerable individuals to get a roof over their head.
Today’s environment is seeing middle-class Canadian families recurrently struggle to afford rental homes or break into the housing market, Fraser said, and Ottawa’s tact will shift accordingly to deal with those needs.
“Because the world changes, so too is our approach going to alter,” he said.
“We’re going to proceed to develop latest programs that can create more room.”
Fraser didn’t provide details about what latest programs could appear to be, but said the federal government would work with provinces and municipalities to supply “nuanced solutions” to housing concerns in each community. That might involve incentivizing the development of latest purpose-built rental housing, akin to the $500 million in repayable funds to construct 1,100 reasonably priced units in B.C. that he announced Wednesday.
Fraser’s comments appear to indicate the federal government leaning into its role in addressing housing affordability, an area Ottawa has tried to distance itself from as of late.
The prime minister said recently there are limits to what the federal government can do.
“I’ll be blunt as well: housing isn’t a primary federal responsibility,” Trudeau said during a housing announcement in Hamilton on July 31.
“It’s not something we have now direct carriage of. However it is something that we will and must help with.”
Poilievre quickly fired back, reminding people of earlier guarantees Trudeau had made on housing.
“(Trudeau) held a news conference to let you know all he’s not accountable for housing. That’s funny, because eight years ago, he promised he was going to lower housing costs,” Poilievre said in a news conference the subsequent day.
On Tuesday, Poilievre said he would withhold funding from cities that failed to satisfy targets for adding stock as a part of his housing plan.
Fraser shot back against the proposal on Wednesday, arguing Ottawa should spur construction with carrots slightly than sticks.
“We are able to do more to incentivize changes at municipal and provincial levels of presidency… and we will further incentivize it by having federal funding contribute to the solutions,” he said.
The CMHC warned in 2022 that the country needs to construct 5.8 million homes by 2030 to revive affordability.
The national housing agency reported Wednesday that the annual pace of housing starts in July fell 10 per cent compared with June once they posted their strongest showing to date this yr.
CMHC said last yr that if the present pace of constructing continues, then only 2.3 million homes can have been added to the housing stock by then.
— with files from The Canadian Press
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.