By Jarrod Bayne
Chief Strategy Officer, Homeward Trust Edmonton.
On National Housing Day, November 22, the Government of Canada released details of the first ever National Housing Strategy, which includes more than $40 billion in investment over the next 10 years. This Strategy represents a huge step forward in addressing Canada’s housing crisis. It will have a strong impact in Edmonton, and in communities across the country.
Canadians have been calling for new national investment for years. In fact, current levels of homelessness and poverty in Canada are directly related to the limited involvement of previous federal governments in affordable housing since the 1990s. As leaders of the work to end homelessness in Edmonton, we at Homeward Trust see the tremendous potential that comes with all orders of government leaning into the issue.
The cornerstone of the National Housing Strategy is the idea that we as Canadians have a right to housing. This commitment is vital, and will be formalized in legislation. The Right to Housing is not some idealistic notion about everyone owning their dream home; what we’re talking about is acknowledging that without suitable housing, there’s no way for Canadians to be safe, to be healthy, and to participate as active members of our communities. Research and evidence overwhelmingly confirm the benefits of housing for individuals, for family well-being, for our service systems, and for strong, diverse communities. Housing is the foundation of what we can accomplish together as Canadians, as Edmontonians, and no one should be left out. The work to end homelessness in our city has for years been grounded in this shared conviction that everyone deserves a home.
Edmonton’s Mayor, City Council, and local leaders have spoken with one voice on the dire need for new housing units. The City’s Affordable Housing Strategy calls for social, affordable, and supportive housing units to be created in all neighbourhoods. Edmonton’s Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness calls for more than 900 new units of Permanent Supportive Housing for those who are most vulnerable. Affordable housing is also a key plank of our city’s strategy to end poverty within a generation. The measures within the National Housing Strategy will make more units available and accessible, increasing the diversity and stability of our neighbourhoods.
The National Housing Strategy also creates the Canada Housing Benefit, which is an important tool to help break the cycle of poverty and homelessness. About 20,000 households in Edmonton are currently at risk of homelessness, spending more than half of their income on housing. Last year, around 1% of Edmontonians experienced a period homelessness, with affordability being by far the biggest challenge. Among those needing longer-term support, around 300 new applications for social housing are made each month, far more than the spaces that are available. Affordable rental units are essential not only to help individuals get out of homelessness, but also to prevent people from losing their housing to begin with.
In addition, the Government of Canada is working with governments and leadership representing Indigenous peoples in order to address urgent housing needs on and off reserve. This work is of great interest in Edmonton, where almost half (48%) of those experiencing homelessness identify as Indigenous, compared with only 6% of the total population.
Further developments are forthcoming; for instance, we are looking forward to the renewal of federal homelessness programming to be announced in the coming year. This commitment will be essential to achieving the ambitious goal of the NHS to cut chronic homelessness in half. We know that there is still more to do and more to learn as the National Housing Strategy unfolds, but it sets us on a promising path forward as a community and as a country.