A national organization committed to ending homelessness is proposing Ottawa introduces a multibillion-dollar housing benefit to bring people out of homelessness and prevent more from becoming unhoused.
The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, or CAEH, outlines the policy proposal in a report set to be released on Wednesday. The group calls for the creation of a Homelessness Prevention and Housing Benefit to augment the existing Canada Housing Benefit, which launched in 2020 and whose funding is split between Ottawa and the provinces and territories. In December, a one-time payment of $500 was added to the program.
Tim Richter, chief executive officer of the CAEH, said the subsidy is helpful but often leaves behind people who have the greatest need, especially as its implementation varies between provinces and territories.
Split into two streams, the proposed benefit would provide aid to an estimated 50,000 people experiencing chronic homelessness and between 200,000 and 385,000 households at imminent risk of losing their homes amid rising inflation. The combined cost would be an estimated $1.5-billion to $3.5-billion a year, depending on the design and degree of the benefit, the report says.
Mr. Richter said reducing homelessness is close to impossible without affordable housing options but building capacity will take years, whereas rent supports are a quick and effective way to reduce homelessness and prevent it. The report says wage subsidies brought in during the COVID-19 pandemic “dramatically revealed” the positive impact of direct support on housing affordability.
The CAEH is releasing the proposal as an unprecedented homelessness crisis is unfolding, said Mr. Richter. Low-income Canadians have been hit hard with increasing rental prices and high inflation, while financial relief programs tied to the pandemic such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit have ended.
Mr. Richter said it is also driving concerns from the broader public who see evidence of rising homelessness on public transit, city streets and in encampments. And it is only expected to get worse.
“The price of inaction is much higher than the price of action,” said Mr. Richter, who added that homelessness already costs Canadians over $7-billion a year.
“This is, in many ways, a slow motion crisis that happens kind of invisibly. There is no major, dramatic event like a fire or a flood, but the impact is precisely the same. The cost to the government is about the same as the worst natural disasters, but the loss of life is actually bound to be higher.”
Housing expert and consultant Steve Pomeroy, who prepared the proposal on behalf of CAEH, estimated that homeless recipients would need between $600 and $700 monthly to cover the average gap for rent when combined with other income supports, bringing the annual budget between $360-million and $420-million.
The budget for the larger group of people at risk of homelessness, identified as nonsubsidized renters paying more than 50 per cent of their income for rent, would depend on how broad the program was. The proposal says reducing costs to between 30 and 40 per cent of income would come with a price tag between $1-billion and $3-billion yearly.
Brittany Hendrych, spokesperson in the office of Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen, thanked CAEH for its work and said the federal government is open to considering proposals from partners. She said the Liberal government is taking meaningful action to address homelessness through the National Housing Strategy and various affordable housing initiatives.
“The bottom line is that ending chronic homelessness is and will continue to be a top priority for our government,” said Ms. Hendrych in a statement. “We will work to advance these efforts with all of our partners at the table to ensure that every Canadian has access to a safe and affordable place to call home, that meets their needs.”
More than $70-million is pledged for Ottawa’s 10-year housing strategy aimed at cutting chronic homelessness in half through a range of programs in partnership with provinces and territories. A separate homelessness-specific strategy, Reaching Home, has prevented 62,00 people from becoming homeless, and placed nearly 32,000 at-risk people into housing from 2019 to 2021, said Ms. Hendrych.
Despite these record investments, Canada’s first federal housing advocate, Marie-Josée Houle, said in November that there in no indication the housing strategy is working and in particular is failing Indigenous people, who experience disproportionate rates of homelessness.