Canada is facing a housing crisis and it is incumbent on all orders of government to take action.

We know the housing crunch is spiralling out of control as people struggle with record levels of household debt, coupled with mounting home ownership costs. It is worrisome Moody’s Investors Service has recently reported housing costs and consumer debt are threats to Canada’s otherwise strong economic performance.

One in four Canadians spends more than 30 per cent of income on housing. At a cost of $7 billion annually to the Canadian economy, more than 200,000 Canadians experience homelessness in a typical year. Some 30,000 people spend more than 180 days a year without permanent shelter.

We can and must do better. Solutions are available. The time is right to derive the benefits of a thriving housing sector while also making housing available and affordable for families, seniors and adults.

The housing sector is among the most important to Canada’s economy, with each dollar spent on housing amounting to a $1.40 increase in GDP. The housing sector makes up a full fifth of the country’s GDP.

A long-term approach is needed to protect at-risk individuals while encouraging a variety of options to make housing more affordable for everyone. That is why the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which represents 2,000 large and small municipalities in every province and territory, has spearheaded the development of the National Forum on Housing and the Economy.

The Forum’s goal is to have municipal, federal, provincial and territorial governments work collaboratively to achieve lasting improvements.

The Forum brings together a diverse group of 10 national associations representing not-for-profits, health professionals, industry and private businesses. Although we are diverse, we are united in our view that Canada needs a strong housing system, ranging from social housing to rental housing to home ownership.

Trends point to the problem becoming worse if we don’t start to address it now. Canada’s affordable rental housing is eroding, through the demolition of apartment buildings and the conversion of rental complexes to condominiums while the number of construction starts for purpose-built rental units remains low. Over the last four decades, new, purpose-built rental housing has not kept up with demand, reducing the range of options that people can afford.

This trend pushes people to sub-standard or unaffordable accommodation, at best. It also restricts labour mobility, as workers are unable to find suitable accommodation in regions experiencing job growth. So even in areas where the number of jobs has been growing, like Alberta, for example, the potential to fill those jobs may not be fully realized.

“At a cost of $7 billion annually to the Canadian economy, more than 200,000 Canadians experience homelessness in a typical year,” writes Brad Woodside.(CHRISTIAN LAFORCE / File)

“At a cost of $7 billion annually to the Canadian economy, more than 200,000 Canadians experience homelessness in a typical year,” writes Brad Woodside.(CHRISTIAN LAFORCE / File)

The federal government has recognized it has a role to play in finding solutions to housing problems. It committed in the 2013 budget to renew two key housing and homelessness programs for five years. While these programs are extremely important, a durable plan is needed to preserve and add to rental housing stock, improve opportunities for homeownership and reduce homelessness.

The upcoming federal budget is the government’s best opportunity to start to implement long-term solutions to Canada’s housing challenges. These solutions include the protection of $1.7 billion in annual federal funding for social housing. Additionally, tax incentives for purpose-built rental housing, labour force initiatives and capital repair or regeneration programs are critical elements of an effective solution.

Canada’s housing challenges affect the economy, employment and the health of Canadians who live in sub-standard housing. Confronting these challenges head-on will give Canadians affordable housing and support the next generation of homeowners. In turn, this will promote our local economy, attract new workers, reduce health-care costs and build vibrant communities.

We know local government must demonstrate leadership on this issue. We are working to increase and preserve the supply of rental and affordable housing through measures such as tax exemptions, streamlining approvals, land-use planning and alternative development standards.

All governments must work in partnership if we are to address Canada’s housing challenges. We can build a more prosperous country while enhancing the well-being of all Canadians.

Story by: BRAD WOODSIDE  .  Brad Woodside is president of The Federation of Canadian Municipalities