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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks to media during an affordable housing news conference at a public housing development in Winnipeg on April 4.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

On Tuesday, according to the federal government’s database of media advisories, 11 cabinet ministers took part in eight separate housing announcements. On Wednesday, there were four housing events, involving eight ministers. Thursday saw 11 ministers, at the head of seven distinct housing flash mobs.

Leading the full-court press, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made housing announcements on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, in Halifax, Toronto and Winnipeg. And he promised more in the run up to the April 16 budget.

Message: Like Bachman-Turner Overdrive, we are taking care of business, every day.

Sending half the cabinet on a barnstorming tour, all performing the same song and dance numbers, is old-hat political PR. But give the government this much: The actual housing announcements were real. And substantial.

The most important are the Apartment Construction Loan Program, an existing $40-billion pot of loan guarantees to for rental housing developers, which is getting another $15-billion; and the new $6-billion Canada Housing Infrastructure Fund, with money for provinces and cities that change zoning to allow fourplexes to be built “as of right” in all residential areas, allow high-rises near top-level public transit, and freeze development charges.

All of which will help to get more housing built, and built where it’s needed, which is in and around the most desirable parts of our biggest cities.

This is all good stuff. But it’s swimming in a deep pool of caveats and limitations.

According to a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation analysis from last year, getting shelter prices down to reasonable levels calls for building 5.8 milion homes over a decade. CIBC economist Benjamin Tal updated that estimate this year, and concluded the shortfall is a million homes higher. We need to build around seven million homes over a decade.

How many is Canada building? According to CMHC, Canada had 271,000 housing starts in 2021 and 262,000 in 2022. That’s higher than at any time since the 1970s – and still nowhere near enough. We need to build at around three times that pace.

Yet in the face of high interest rates and rising construction costs, building has slowed. CMHC reports 240,000 housing starts in 2023, and expects fewer this year. Starts in 2025 and 2026 are also expected to remain below the level of 2023.

The Trudeau government’s incentives may move the needle a bit. But how much of a difference can they make, at least in the short term? The share of the labour force working in construction is already nearly 8 per cent – the highest ever.

And in any case, the investment needed for seven million homes is measured in trillions of dollars. Nearly all is going to have to come from the private sector.

Take the Apartment Construction Loan Program. Ottawa says it will support the building of 131,000 homes. That sounds like a lot, until you notice it’s less than 2 per cent of the needed seven million.

And the program is far off its target. When it launched seven years ago, on a smaller budget, the aim was to finance 71,000 new rental homes. According to the most recent progress report, only 11,208 have been completed.

This week’s housing policy announcements from the Trudeau government are the latest nudge to liberalize zoning in and around Canada’s biggest and most economically dynamic cities. In the long run, this will hopefully make it cheaper and easier to build a lot more housing in places where demand is highest.

But in the short run, it’s hard to see how the Trudeau government’s latest moves – positive though they are – will have more than a marginal impact.

The quantity of housing in our cities and suburbs, and their type, location and price, may be quite different by, say, 2035. The Trudeau government may one day claim some of the credit for that. But it can’t work a big change in 2024. Or 2025. Or 2026.

The only way to have a short-term impact on the housing market is to pull the short-term demand levers.

The housing crisis is at least in part a catastrophe of the Trudeau government’s making. It enabled the explosion in the number of visa students and temporary foreign workers, capping things off with unprecedented population growth of 1.3 million people in 2023.

The only way to bring housing supply and demand back into a more equitable balance, at least in the next few years, is to lower demand. And the only way to do that is for the Trudeau government to retrace its hasty steps on temporary foreign residents. That is what the government has promised. That is what it has to do.

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