Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Canada’s mayors Friday that his government will roll out a new long-term infrastructure plan in the fall to boost the stock of affordable housing across the country.
Speaking to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Big City Mayors Conference in Toronto, Trudeau said he’d save the details of the plan for the autumn but promised it “will have very direct links to housing.”
In February of 2021, Trudeau announced the federal government would spend nearly $15 billion over eight years on public transportation projects. On Friday, he said the incentives behind the infrastructure plan will be similar to those in the transit plan.
“Access to full funding will rely on you coming to the table with concrete and ambitious commitments on how you’re going to build more housing to go with more transit,” he said.
“This means that, just like the Housing Accelerator Fund, the more ambitious your housing targets, the more generous we’ll be able to be in partnering with you.”
Housing advocates welcomed the idea, saying that tying major government investments to housing is one important way to address the housing crisis.
“This is something that we’ve been calling for for a long time,” Michele McMaster, vice president of strategy at Habitat for Humanity Canada, told CBC News. “Housing can’t be an island.
“The goal is to give Canadians a good life and a good life is partly a roof over your head. But it’s more than that. Transit is crucial, amenities are crucial, retail, jobs — we need the whole package.”
Watch: Trudeau encourages municipalities to set ‘ambitious’ housing targets:
Jacob Gorenkoff, director of policy for the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, said the initiative is one of the more effective policy levers a government can pull.
“When trying to incentivize the creation of housing at the provincial, municipal levels, using transit and infrastructure dollars more generally is a smart idea and one of the things CHRA has as one of our standing recommendations,” Gorenkoff told CBC News.
Working with Indigenous leaders
Margaret Pfoh, CEO of the Aboriginal Housing Management Association, said tying infrastructure money to a municipal or provincial commitment to build more housing is “smart” but it needs Indigenous input.
“Nothing that is led by any level of government for Indigenous people will have the kind of impact that we need to have in our community because they don’t understand the particular racist, systemic challenges our people have been facing,” Pfoh said.
In order for Indigenous people to benefit, she said, governments must bring Indigenous leadership into the decision-making process.
Pfho said the affordable housing crisis in Canada is worse for Indigenous people because they have lived in a “poverty framework” since colonization.
The Canadian Centre for Housing Rights helps tenants facing evictions with legal assistance, and advocates for low- to moderate-income Canadians seeking affordable housing.
Bahar Shadpour, the centre’s director of policy and communications, told CBC her group also supports the idea but only if it comes with strict municipal and provincial regulations.
“What we see sometimes is that particular areas, when they do get that infrastructure investment, investors then also go into those areas and then it becomes really lucrative,” she said.
Without adequate regulations in place, Shadpour said, cities could see investors piggybacking on government investments by purchasing older, lower-income housing stock and converting it to high-end housing.
On Friday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh pitched the idea of imposing a government moratorium on for-profit operations buying affordable housing units when they come on the market.
“No one should be afraid to be ‘renovicted’ or see their rent doubled because a housing profiteer bought their building to increase profits. But unfortunately, that’s what is happening right now,” Singh said in a media statement.
Trudeau attacks Poilievre over housing
In March, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre unveiled a housing strategy that promised to fire what he called “gatekeepers” — the government officials, municipal permit issuers and others he claims are standing in the way of building new homes.
“It’s time to bring homes people can afford by removing government gatekeepers to free up land and speed up building permits,” he said in a media statement at the time.
That plan called for big cities to either increase home building by 15 per cent annually or face the prospect of seeing their federal funding cut.
Poilievre’s plan also promised to give “building bonuses” to cities that increase their housing stock.
Trudeau said Friday that his government’s approach to boosting the stock of affordable housing is to work with municipalities in partnership. He accused Poilievre of seeking to “bully” them.
“They want to pick fights with you, to bully you into what they decide for you, while they cut funding and programs,” Trudeau said. “Huh. Gatekeepers.”
The prime minister said Poilievre’s approach is too simplistic and does not respect the complex needs of individual communities.