The National Housing Strategy is a bold, 10-year plan to provide adequate housing for all Canadians, focusing on the homeless, women and children fleeing violence, seniors, Indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities
Charlie MacArthur remembers the cold, damp drafts during the winter growing up in Cape Breton, N.S.
He also can’t forget the sense of shame he felt about the house he grew up in during the 1970s, which had no indoor bathroom or hot running water.
That all changed when his family received funding from a government program for new insulation, windows and doors – along with other upgrades to their home.
“Just being warm was a huge thing,” says MacArthur, now senior vice-president of assisted housing at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). “And then there was that sense of pride. To me, that’s foundational – not just the warmth and security of a good home, but to be proud of the place you live.”
That’s why Canada’s new National Housing Strategy (NHS) is so important to the many Canadians in need of safe, affordable housing, MacArthur adds.
“The NHS is aimed at finding solutions to very human problems. Not having access to adequate, warm housing – like I experienced as a child – has a direct impact on people’s lives and can limit their opportunities to prosper and thrive.”
The NHS, unveiled in November 2017, aims to tackle the many challenges faced by millions of Canadians without adequate and affordable housing. The 10-year, $40-billion plan involves new partnerships with provinces, territories, municipalities and other partners to help build a new generation of housing in Canada.
The need is great, MacArthur says. Though Canada is among the richest nations in the world, about 1.7 million Canadian families still do not have housing that meets their needs and that they can afford.
Unprecedented in terms of scope and ambition, the NHS is an ambitious plan to ensure all Canadians have affordable, energy-efficient spaces that they can proudly call home. The plan focuses on Canada’s most vulnerable populations: seniors, women and children fleeing violence, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, veterans and people dealing with mental health and addiction issues.
Through implementation of the NHS, the federal government wants to cut homelessness in half over the next decade, while providing more than 500,000 households a secure and affordable place to live. This will involve boosting the number of affordable units nationwide by creating more than 100,000 new units and upgrading about 300,000 existing units.
While many Canadians are familiar with CMHC as the insurer of their mortgage, the government agency has long played a pivotal role in finding affordable housing solutions, MacArthur notes.
“For example, we recently worked with First Nations to build shelters on reserve, to give people fleeing domestic violence a safe place to rebuild their lives,” he says about an initiative unrelated to the current NHS.
Most of CMHC’s efforts involve partnering with provinces, territories, cities and non-profits. In recent years, that included spearheading the federal government’s investment of $200-million in seniors’ housing, and $500-million to renovate and retrofit existing community housing.
“Every one of those investments has changed lives for the better,” MacArthur adds.
Yet much remains to be done, and that’s why the federal government launched the NHS, revealed initially in its 2016 budget. About half the funding will be used to build new units to meet current and future needs, with the other half going toward upgrading existing units.
“We want to ensure the stock already out there can last for a significantly longer period of time,” MacArthur says of the upgrades.
Most existing community housing units were built decades ago, he notes, and at the very least require energy-efficiency retrofitting. Much of the housing also needs critical renovations to ensure they remain habitable in the short and long term.
Central to the NHS is the $15.2-billion National Co-Investment Fund that will be administered by CMHC.
This pool of money is available to provinces and territories, cities, non-profits and other stakeholders as loans and grants to fund projects that promote a combination of affordability, accessibility and energy efficiency.
“We have an experienced team on the ground, spread across the country, that can help our partners to address their regional needs for maintaining and growing community housing,” MacArthur says.
Besides providing access to funding, CMHC offers expertise on planning, energy efficiency and innovation.
MacArthur notes that working hand-in-hand with partners is critical to the success of the NHS because no one organization – CMHC included – can address this multi-faceted problem on its own.
That said, MacArthur also knows just how important the agency’s role will be in the successful delivery of the NHS. Like the millions of Canadians who will be helped by the initiative, he knows how it feels to not have adequate housing.
More importantly, he understands what it means to have a safe and warm place to call home.
“Having a better place to live made me feel better about myself and more included in my community,” MacArthur says.
“More people need a good place to live so they can fully participate in society. That’s the challenge we’re trying to address and that’s why people are at the heart of the NHS.”
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