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Liberals promise to prioritize seniors in new housing strategy, but advocates press for more details

By Marco Vigliotti      

While the 2017 budget listed seniors as a priority group that would benefit from the new national housing strategy, an advocate for federal pensioners warns it's 'short on specifics.'

The government's budget for 2017 promised big money for affordable housing, but most of it is scheduled to be delivered after the next election. Photograph by MS Anthea courtesy of Flickr
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Advocates are applauding the Trudeau government for prioritizing seniors in its promised national housing strategy, but they want more details on plans to address housing precariousness for older Canadians.

The federal Liberals earmarked $11.2-billion over 11 years to build, renew, and repair affordable housing in the 2017 budget, while also unveiling plans to implement a national housing strategy, following years of calls from proponents.

The strategy is touted in the budget as a “renewed” partnership between Ottawa and the provinces and territories to better support housing priorities.

The government also announced plans for a new $5-billion national housing fund to address critical housing issues and better support vulnerable citizens, and promised to offer “targeted” housing support for northern housing and indigenous people not living on reserves, as well as expanded federal investments to address homelessness and to strengthen housing research activities conducted by the federal Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

According to the government, the national housing fund will prioritize support for vulnerable citizens, including indigenous people, veterans, those suffering from mental health and addiction issues, and seniors.

The Liberals also pledged to make more federal lands available for the development of affordable housing.

An over-reliance on hospitals to provide long-term care, and the number of seniors captured by the social housing system who would be better served by purpose-built housing, are chief concerns of the Trudeau government when it comes to housing for older Canadians, said Adam Vaughan (Spadina—Fort York, Ont.), parliamentary secretary to Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos (Québec, Que.)

The Liberals, he said, are looking to address the dependency on hospitals by investing billions into home care and mental health services, while building more housing units tailored to the needs of seniors. This would not only better serve that cohort but also free up units for other Canadians who aren’t in need of these specialized supportive living arrangements.

“The supports are more than just $11.2-billion that was front and centre in the budget. The supports around home care, and the supports around mental health and aging in place are critical support dollars that, when matched with capital dollars, provide real impact,” he told The Hill Times. 

“The $11.2-billion is largely capital, but if we can marry the programs that provide that support in construction or renovation, I think we’ve got a much more substantial expenditure into this area, one that’s going to make a bigger difference supporting peoples’ choices as they seek to protect their quality of life.”

“I can’t stress enough how critical it is having both those policies working in tandem and working with our provincial and territorial counterparts to deliver that flexible policy that’s going to be a key piece of the new national housing strategy.”

The federal government has been in discussion with the provinces and territories on the housing plan since last summer, and an agreement is expected to be reached by the fall, he added.

But advocates want to know what exactly this new strategy would mean for seniors.

Jean-Guy Soulière, president of the National Association of Federal Retirees, which advocates for federal pensioners, including members of the civil service, the Canadian Armed Forces, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, called the national housing strategy a “positive item” that can “improve health outcomes” for Canadians, with affordable housing an important social determinant of health.

A healthier population with retirement and housing security, he said, can “pay dividends back to Canada, to our communities, and economies.”

But while the budget listed seniors as a one of the groups that would benefit from the strategy, Mr. Soulière said it’s “short on specifics for seniors.”

Instead, he called for a “comprehensive” seniors strategy that would see a more “focused, targeted approach” to address the needs of an aging Canada, and would lead to the “most effective use of the funds available,” while involving all orders of government.

“Seniors have unique needs in this area, such as aging in place and appropriate shelter when they can no longer remain at home,” he said in a statement.

“Seniors and seniors organizations should be meaningfully consulted and their specific needs acted upon as this strategy unfolds.”

The Canadian Association for Retired Persons (CARP), which advocates for financial security and health care for older Canadians, said it was pleased that the government was paying attention to the issue of housing for seniors but was “not convinced enough is being done.”

Wanda Morris, vice-president of advocacy with CARP, said the $11-billion allotment may sound substantial, but it doesn’t amount to a lot when divided over a decade and spread across a sprawling country with a population of roughly 35 million people.

She also expressed concern that only a “comparatively small fraction” of the funding, $3-billion of the $11-billion, will be spent before 2022.

“While seniors were included as one of a number of specified groups to be helped with new housing, we’ll need to see program details before we can assess whether this investment will make an appreciable difference for older Canadians,” she told The Hill Times.

“While CARP is pleased to see focus on this issue, we also encourage the government to consider working with the private sector to address housing problems. We believe that cost-effective improvements to housing can be made by [incentivizing] developers to build rental unit supply.”

When reached for comment, the office of Mr. Duclos said more details about the housing strategy, and how the money will be spent, will be released this fall, though in the meantime the Liberal government would continue to deliver on promises from the 2016 budget, including the $200-million over two years set aside for affordable housing for low-income seniors.

Those funds have been transferred to the provinces and territories.

“Improving housing is about far more than building roofs. Our government wants every Canadian to live in a home where they can thrive, where they feel safe, and where they can raise a family or retire in peace,” said Emilie Gauduchon-Campbell, press secretary for Mr. Duclos.

“That’s why, our strategy, the first national housing strategy in Canada’s history, will first focus on the most vulnerable Canadians, like seniors and women.”

mvigliotti@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times 

Housing promises in the 2017 budget

$3.2-billion over the next 11 years to provinces and territories to support priorities for affordable housing

$5-billion over the next 11 years for a National Housing Fund

$300-million over the next 11 years to support northern housing

$225-million over the next 11 years to support housing providers serving indigenous peoples not living on reserves

$2.1-billion over the next 11 years to expand and extend funding for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy

$202-million over the next 11 years to make surplus federal lands and buildings available to housing providers

$241-million over the next 11 years to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to improve data collection and analytics

$39.9-million over five years, and $6.6-million per year thereafter, to Statistics Canada to develop a new Housing Statistics Framework

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