The Housing Again Bulletin, sponsored by Raising the Roof as a partner in Housing Again.
A monthly electronic bulletin highlighting what people are doing to put housing back on the public agenda across Canada and around the world, sponsored by Raising the Roof as part of the Housing Again partnership.
News for May, 2003
New Secretary of State for CMHC Mandated to Focus on Affordable Housing
On April 11, Liberal MP Steve Mahoney (Peel Region, Ontario) was named Secretary of State for Selected Crown Corporations (including Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation). Mahoney has represented the Toronto-area riding of Mississauga West since 1997. Prior to that, he served two terms in the Ontario legislature. Prime Minister Jean Chretien said he wants Mahoney to focus on affordable housing issues.
Auditor General Blasts Housing Conditions on Native Reserves
Auditor General Sheila Fraser issued a scathing report on the state of housing on First Nations reserves on April 8. She reported Canada's 600 Indian reserves face a massive housing shortfall, despite the infusion of $3.8 billion in federal funding over the past decade. According to research by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) cited by Fraser, shabby construction, toxic mould, inadequate funding and a booming First Nations population growth has lead to a shortage of 8,500 houses. INAC also found that 44 percent of the 89,000 houses currently on reserves were in need of renovation.
Community Spotlight: Registering the Homeless Vote in Toronto
In Community Spotlight the Bulletin looks at how different communities are creating affordable housing and dealing with homelessness. If you think your community would make a great story, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with the details.**
With an Ontario election coming in the next few months, the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) is revising its resource guide aimed at getting homeless people registered to vote.
The TDRC's "Guide to Hassle Free Voting" will be included in a kit containing information for homeless people and their advocates, states Dana Milne, community development coordinator for the TDRC.
The revised Guide points out that people still have the right to vote even if they lack a permanent residence or proper identification. "In order to vote in Ontario, you can use a hostel, a soup kitchen or a drop-in centre as an address," says Milne. "Basically, any place where you frequent to sleep or eat."
People without ID can sign a special form (called a statutory declaration) that will entitle them to vote.
While the TDRC doesn't have any hard data, registration and voter turnout for homeless and low-income citizens is generally much lower than for other segments of the population, and the TDRC created the guide four years ago to counter this trend. According to Milne, advocates managed to register 200 homeless people for the 1999 Ontario election.
The TDRC's revised election kit outlines several registration strategies. It urges staff who work with the homeless to contact the Returning Officer (a government appointee in charge of regulating the voting process within a given geographical area) in their riding. The Returning Officer can provide registration forms or arrange to send government officials known as "Revising Agents" to hostels, drop-in centres, soup kitchens, etc. to register homeless people on the spot. Once registered, homeless citizens are entitled to vote.
The TDRC has not planned any similar registration drives for the next federal election or the upcoming municipal election in Toronto.
A non-partisan organization, the TDRC doesn't typically endorse candidates or political parties, but it is spearheading a move to "pull together housing advocacy groups and neighbourhood groups to organize around the Ontario election," says Milne. To this end, the TDRC has been working with Housing Action Now, the Pay the Rent and Feed the Kids campaign, the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), and other groups. These organizations met in late April to discuss, among other things, a proposal to campaign heavily on housing and homeless issues in a couple key Toronto ridings where the provincial Tories are now elected, perhaps in Etobicoke or North York.
The TDRC is gearing up to distribute the 2003 Voters Guide directly to the homeless as well as to homeless advocates at drop-in centres, shelters, etc. The guide will also be posted on the TDRC website.
While their numbers alone might not be enough to swing any election results, Milne says it's crucial for homeless people to participate in the political process. To do otherwise is to risk being overlooked and ignored. "People can debate the benefit to voting, but it is important to have that choice," she says. "It's important for the homeless to have the right to vote, to be allowed to make the choice to vote."
Small Victories and Big Challenges Come out of Housing Ministers’ Meeting
Housing advocates scored some small victories at the April 15 - 16 federal-provincial-territorial housing ministers meeting in Winnipeg, but still face major challenges.
On the plus side, activists managed to "stiffen the resolve of the federal government" while preventing a rollback on housing issues at the provincial level, says Michael Shapcott, co-chair of the National Housing and Homelessness Network (NHHN).
The meeting was the first since governments signed the Affordable Housing Framework Agreement in November, 2001. It was attended by David Collenette, the senior federal minister in charge of housing issues, Steve Mahoney, new Secretary of State for Selected Crown Corporations (see story below) and various provincial and territorial leaders.
Also in attendance were several advocacy and non-profit groups, including the NHHN, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, and the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada.
Under the terms of the 2001 Framework Agreement, the federal government pledged $680 million for new affordable housing over five years and provincial ministers agreed to match this sum. These funds were to go towards the development of 27,000 new housing units across Canada.
Shapcott says the Agreement fell well short of the target of 20 - 30,000 new units every year, but was "an important step forward," nonetheless.
In Winnipeg, Shapcott criticized the provinces for not living up to their end of the Framework Agreement, saying slight progress has been made. "A few hundred units in Quebec have been built, a few hundred units in BC have been built, and even fewer have been built in other parts of the country," he said.
Instead of pledging to improve their largely dismal record on housing issues, provincial and territorial officials at the Winnipeg meeting "tried to wiggle their way out of the commitments that they made 17 months ago to fund new, truly affordable housing," reports Shapcott.
Unlike their provincial counterparts, federal representatives in Winnipeg were fairly receptive to issues raised by housing advocates. The feds even embraced one of the main causes promoted by activists at the event - namely, the notion that Ottawa should consider bypassing reluctant provincial and territorial authorities, and work directly with municipalities and other housing providers.
"If, for whatever reason ... the provinces don't participate, then we reserve the right to go directly to the various local groups," said Collenette at a press conference held at the conclusion of the meeting. He added that Ottawa would only take this step if provincial and territorial leaders continue to balk at building new housing units.
Shapcott welcomes Collenette's comments as a positive development. He is also pleased that the new federal budget adds $320 million to Ottawa's commitment towards new housing, putting the total sum of new federal funds for housing at $1 billion over five years.
He is dismissive of a pre-conference proposal put forward by Ontario premier Ernie Eves. In his March budget statement, Eves floated the idea of allowing homeowners to deduct a percentage of their mortgage interest payments from their tax bill, ostensibly to make it easier for low-income families to purchase homes.
Editorials in the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and other papers blasted the initiative as amounting to a tax break for rich people with big mortgages. Mortgage interest deductions have proven to be "a huge albatross" in the United States, says Shapcott, who warns that Eves' plan could cost Ontario taxpayers $5 billion a year.
Despite some promising developments in Winnipeg, Shapcott says housing activists shouldn't get complacent.
"Some of the gains I mentioned need to be set against the bleak [reality] that the nationwide housing crisis and homeless disaster continues to be absolutely desperate," he states.
"Across the country, homeless shelters are full and the number of 'hidden homeless' appears to be growing in most parts of the country," says Shapcott. "While we're making some small political progress, the bigger crisis continues to overwhelm."