Bill M-147 – Homelessness and Affordable Housing
February 15, 2018
Mr. Len Webber (Calgary Confederation, CPC): Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak on Motion No. 147. I would like to thank the hon. member for Saskatoon West for bringing forth this motion. I am deeply disappointed that the Liberal government cannot support her motion.
Sadly, not all Canadians have a place to call home. Many more have wholly inadequate housing to call home. Having a home is a critical part of being a human and a productive member of society. Having a home, a fixed address, is the stable foundation everybody needs.
Canada has failed, all governments at all levels, to fix Canada’s homeless problem. In fact, it has continued to get worse as we throw more money at this problem.
Housing advocates tell us that Canada has up to 8,000 chronically homeless individuals. These folks usually have associated mental, addiction, and social challenges that make them the most difficult to find housing solutions for. On any given night, it is estimated that roughly 35,000 Canadians face homelessness. These folks find themselves in and out of the shelter system.
It is estimated that about 235,000 Canadians face homelessness every year. This is group of Canadians make up a population comparable to the City of Regina who have a problem finding a home. We are short housing options for an entire city’s worth of people. We essentially need to build a major city just to fix our housing problems.
The time has come for us to honestly look at what we have done, what we are doing, and determine what is working and what is not. It is time to be honest with ourselves about our past efforts if we are going to improve those going forward. This is why I support the call for a special committee to put together a national plan to deal with homelessness.
How can we not look at the housing issue when there are over 235,000 Canadians desperately in need? Every day we walk out there and see this temporary hockey rink, which would have built around 21 average homes in Canada. Where are our priorities?
Back in 2007, I chaired an Alberta provincial MLA task force to look at affordable housing issues. We went across the Province of Alberta to get input on the issues. We set out to find innovative and practical ways to make affordable housing more accessible and available. We focused on solutions for the homeless, affordable housing, including subsidized rental and home ownership. By bringing together representatives from municipalities, businesses, community leaders, industry associations, political parties, and the non-profit sector, we were able to get a broad base of expertise and knowledge on housing matters. We were able to build a large list of recommendations and policy goals for governments at all levels. While many of the recommendations were embraced, others were not. However, we were successful at getting a long overdue conversation going and millions of dollars directed to addressing this problem.
My work with the homeless did not end with the task force. For a number of years after, I served on the board of a Calgary homeless foundation. This year will mark the 10th anniversary since the foundation led the creation of Calgary’s 10-year plan to end homelessness. We will mark this anniversary, but we will not be celebrating. We still have a homeless problem in Calgary and across Canada. By all counts, it is getting worse, not better. Ten years after Calgary’s 10-year plan to end homelessness, we still have too many homeless in Calgary. Those involved are working hard, but the problem is growing. Much of the cause is beyond their control, such as the economic downturn, housing prices in Calgary, the opioid epidemic, and more. At the same time, the solution is not to build more shelters. We need to find a way to have affordable housing as a reality.
One of the most cited psychologists of the 20th century, Abraham Maslow, published his now-famous Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Basically, it summarizes the stages of human growth and it ranks human needs. The need for shelter or housing is listed in the first level of need, right beside food, air, and water. Without adequate shelter, we cannot develop as humans.
We will not move to that next stage of development until the first stage needs are satisfied. At the most basic of levels, our society provides emergency shelters. These are horrible places to exist, but offer a better alternative than the frozen streets, and give folks the help they need. After that, there are various other arrangements depending on where one lives, and what their needs are.
While they do offer a level of housing, shelters are supported living, and not long-term, independent living solutions. Canada, as the taxpayer, cannot afford to pay for housing for everyone forever. As a nation, we need to find a way to create affordable, sustainable, dependable, and independent housing solutions. We will only truly address the homelessness issue if we get people into their own homes and not rely on shelters.
Once someone controls their own housing situation, according to Maslow, they will, only then, be able to move to the next level, and then on to self-actualization. The next level of Maslow’s theory is called “Safety Needs” and includes things like personal security, financial security, health and well-being. Addressing all these needs obviously requires someone to have stable housing of their own.
The most affordable type of independent housing are bachelor suites or single occupancy units. I would recommend that any study strongly address the need for more bachelor units in Canada. If we want to have more people living in a place of their own, we have to work at increasing the supply of these more affordable housing options. For those with modest incomes, the climb up from a shelter to a one-bedroom apartment is too big. They need something affordable. Since 1990, the number of bachelor units has dropped dramatically by 40%, in the most affordable type of housing in Canada. I do not understand it.
In my riding of Calgary Confederation there are only 200 bachelor apartments, which represents one-third of 1% of homes in my riding. The average rental rate for a bachelor apartment in Calgary is 20% less than that of a one-bedroom unit. It is about $825 a month compared to $1,025 per month. For some people, $200 is the difference between housing affordability and living in a shelter. For others, it is the difference between having to choose between food and rent.
Another aspect that needs to be addressed is the shocking decrease in overall rental units here in Canada. Since 1990, the total number of rental units has dropped per capita by 15%, which has further driven up rental costs. In many larger communities rental costs now regularly exceed average mortgage payments.
I will be voting in support of this motion. I will be supporting the need for the government and organizations to address our affordable housing problems in Canada.
I reiterate that I am deeply disappointed that the Liberal government will not support this issue, and this motion.