One letter and an advocacy win? Is that possible?

A dart is in the centre of a dartboard.

Last November, MCC Canada’s Executive Director, Rick Cober Bauman, wrote to Sean Fraser, the Federal Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities, calling on the Government of Canada to create a federal acquisition fund for municipalities, non-market and Indigenous housing providers to purchase and convert existing rental housing, hotels and offices into non-market rental housing.

When Minister of Finance, Chrystia Freeland, tabled the 2024 Federal Budget it included $1.5 billion to launch a Canada Rental Protection Fund.

“The Fund will seek to mobilize investments and financing from the charitable sector, private sector, and other orders of government. It will provide immediate and direct support to community housing providers to acquire affordable rental units at risk of being sold to investors and repriced in order to preserve their affordability over the long term.” - Infrastructure Canada - Solving the Housing Crisis: Canada’s Housing Plan

The Canada Rental Protection Fund is exactly what MCC was calling for. It is not often you write a letter to the government, calling for something, and then see it enacted by the government in the space of a few months.

MCC’s letter did not come out of the blue. It was simply supporting the call for a rental acquisition fund that had been proposed by a number of organizations working on homelessness and housing.

The Government of Canada’s own National Housing Strategy laid the foundation for MCC’s request. It can be hard to see Canada’s National Housing Strategy as a success so far. With home prices, rents and homelessness all on the rise in recent years, it looks like the strategy, launched in 2017, has not been successful at all.

Some background: As we noted previously, the homelessness and housing affordability crisis we have been living through recently has been thirty years in the making. It is the result of the government exit from funding social housing in the mid-1990s and the transformation of Canada’s rental housing market into a place for real estate investors, pension funds and insurance companies to extract profits by systematically raising rents. Layered onto that have been rising construction costs, labour shortages, high interest rates and slow approval processes for new construction.

Federal investments through the National Housing Strategy have been focused primarily on private, for-profit rental housing construction. The smaller amount of money dedicated to non-profit housing has been put to good use. But as new non-profit affordable housing has been built, rents in existing relatively affordable rental housing in the for-profit market have been rising dramatically. In effect, Canada has been losing affordable housing stock faster than new, non-profit housing can be built.

To address this problem, groups in several communities across Canada have started buying older for-profit apartment buildings and turning them into non-profit or co-operative housing.

The National Housing Strategy has laid the groundwork for these initiatives. In 2019, the Federal Government created the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate . The Federal Housing Advocate has initiated studies into the financialization of housing and homeless encampments among other issues. 

The National Strategy has also funded housing research. The Housing Assessment Resource Tools (HART) project at the University of British Columbia is one example. The HART project has created a Housing Needs Assessment Tool, a Land Assessment Tool and a Property Acquisitions Tool. 

The research done by the Federal Housing Advocate and groups like the HART project have helped to show the scope of Canada’s housing needs, the root causes of the homelessness and housing affordability crisis and the types of initiatives and scale of investment needed to end homelessness and make sure everyone has a home they can afford to live in.

Solving Canada’s homelessness and housing crisis cannot happen overnight, nor is one advocacy letter followed by a positive response enough. That is why MCC continues to support policies such as the Canada Rental Protection Fund, better rent control and more focused investment in non-profit housing alongside broader supports for new market rental housing.

It feels good to see immediate response to an advocacy letter. It will feel even better when housing policies and government funding for affordable, non-market housing ensure there is safe, affordable and secure housing for everyone.

Hear more about the roots of the housing crisis and some solutions in two episodes of Undercurrents: the first with MCC’s Advocacy Associate Greg deGroot-Maggetti and the second with Beyond Housing Executive Director Dan Driedger.