Building on a foundation for affordable housing change

Pedro Barata is Senior Vice President of Community Impact & Strategy at United Way Greater Toronto. He has experience working within, and across community-based organizations, strategic philanthropy, and various levels of government.

Just a year ago, we were celebrating the launch of the National Housing Strategy, a tangible and visionary demonstration of the federal government’s leadership on an issue of deep concern to Canadians. United Ways across the country joined the effort to contribute to the development of the federal strategy by helping to convene the National Housing Collaborative.

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This novel experiment brought together non-profits, foundations, private housing providers, policy makers and government— as well as tapping into the expertise and perspectives of people with lived experience, communities and local governments—to take advantage of a unique opportunity in time. Together, we entered into a pan-Canadian conversation focused on reimagining affordable housing for communities from coast to coast to coast, devising a roadmap to follow, and hammering out the serious policies and practices to get us there.

The hard work of the partners involved in the National Housing Collaborative paid off. The National Housing Strategy reflected the core recommendations from the housing sector and community through its goals, policy and funding.

The National Housing Strategy is a $40 billion decade-long comprehensive strategy. Importantly, it prioritizes those in greatest need. Significantly, It lays out a range of policy priorities to increase the supply of affordable housing and to support the renewal and maintenance of existing housing. It sets in motion the creation of a new Canada Housing Benefit,  and doubles investments aimed at ultimately cutting chronic homelessness in half. It also takes significant action to build the capacity of the housing sector to deliver on the 10-year vision, as well as to re-build our research and expertise in this area.

A year in, we can take stock of significant progress and find reasons to be optimistic — we really are at the beginning of something new and promising:

  • We have alignment across all levels of government in both principle and practice, something that is very powerful. As the federal government has come forward with funding, policy and leadership, municipalities across our region, including leadership in York, Peel and Toronto have stepped up to the challenge, making this issue a priority. Indeed, through the federal-provincial agreement between Canada and Ontario, the province has committed to taking on a senior role in partnership with those municipalities and in partnering on a new portable housing benefit.
  • An emphasis on new collaboration has exercised our creative muscle and extended our understanding of how every sector can contribute to solutions. CMHC’s new National Housing Co-investment Fund creates a new source of funds that will add to the mix of tools to encourage innovative partnerships and leverage investment to build and repair much-needed new affordable housing — social, non-profit and private. United Way’s own experience with our partners on Tower Neighbourhood Renewal models valuable lessons in what can be realized by updating what we have, transforming it to better deliver on the social, environmental and economic outcomes of a new generation of housing.
  • The commitment to a portable housing benefit, the Canada Housing Benefit, is a game-changer when it comes to addressing core housing need and poverty reduction. With implementation expected in 2020, senior levels of government working with community, experts and people with lived experience have a real opportunity to build a historic new pillar for social and economic inclusion. Our task should be to dream big. With the right first steps, we can establish a new policy infrastructure that, over time, should be as ambitious in terms of reach, responsiveness and impact as the Canada Child Benefit.
  • The federal government’s new strategy on homelessness, Reaching Home, doubles resources for the Homelessness Partnership Strategy, to support communities in working towards an ambitious goal of reducing homelessness by 50% over the next 10 years. It also builds on learnings over the last decade, embracing a Housing First model that incorporates wrap-around supports. Better data integration and a central application system round out this comprehensive approach.
  • And an emerging new focus on housing as a human right raises the bar on our discussion about core social needs as essential to the kind of Canada we want to build, and our values of fairness, inclusion and mutual care.

As we continue this important work, striving together to address this most basic and urgent of human needs, there is a newfound sense of hope and opportunity. No strategy of this scale and complexity will be straightforward, simple, or without lessons learned. But the promise that it holds should keep us focused, determined, and open to learning through collaboration.

With the leadership of the federal government and the support of provinces and municipalities working directly with communities, we have finally put the issue of housing and homelessness where it deserves to be: at the top of the agenda, with clear policy direction and dollars to back it up.

The foundation is laid; let’s get on with it.

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