Budget Reaction: Finding Hope in Budget 2024

April 17, 2024

The federal government has boldly stepped in to lead intergovernmental collaboration on the full spectrum of housing and homelessness in Budget 2024. But will these new measures truly uphold the human right to adequate housing for tenants and people in greatest housing need? Read more to find out.

By Sahar Raza

In 2019, the federal government enshrined the human right to adequate housing in legislation. This week, the federal government released the most bold and cohesive housing plan we’ve seen from them in decades—and in it, we find hope.

Budget 2024 takes steps towards making the fundamental human right to adequate housing a reality in Canada by demonstrating national leadership in addressing critical areas like tenant rights, affordable housing, and homelessness. Some significant and long called for measures include:

  • A $15 million Tenant Protection Fund, which we expect will enable tenants’ rights organizations to, among other things, claim their right to housing under the federal justice mechanisms—something we at the National Right to Housing Network directly called for. We hope to see this roll out in time for the next human rights review on women’s homelessness;
  • $1.5 billion for a new Rental Protection Fund, which will enable non-market housing providers to buy and preserve affordable homes that are rapidly being lost across Canada;
  • $1 billion for the Affordable Housing Fund and new Rapid Housing Stream, to build and maintain deeply affordable housing, supportive housing, and shelters;
  • $1.1 billion for the Interim Housing Assistance Program, to support asylum claimants;
  • $1.3 billion for Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, within which $250 million is earmarked for human rights-based encampment responses;
  • A Renters’ Bill of Rights, to crack down on renovictions, standardize lease agreements, and increase price transparency; and,
  • A commitment to confront the financialization of housing in the Fall Economic Statement.

Canada’s new Housing Plan also includes conditions on the $6 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund offered to other orders of government. These conditions call on provinces and territories to use their jurisdictional power to, among other things, implement the new Renters’ Bill of Rights. This Bill could be an important measure for protecting tenants from unreasonable rent hikes, evictions, and more if developed through deep engagement with renters and civil society organizations.

Budget 2024 also announces that the long-awaited $1.5-billion Co-operative Housing Development Program and the $4.3 billion Urban, Rural and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy will both roll out this year.

But will these measures make a difference for the millions of people across Canada facing unaffordable rents, core housing need, and homelessness today?

What these Measures Mean for Those in Greatest Need

While there is a long way to go to rein in the private market and improve housing affordability, these measures are a meaningful first step for women, gender-diverse people, Indigenous peoples, Black and racialized people, people with disabilities, asylum seekers, and low-income people who disproportionately face poverty, core housing need, and homelessness—and too often don’t have access to the supports they need.

In fact, Indigenous peoples who engage in the simple act of keeping themselves alive in public spaces face some of the worst forms of colonial violence and human rights violations through government-led encampment clearings and other acts that criminalize homelessness. This past February, the Federal Housing Advocate completed a national review of encampments, revealing the severe human rights violations faced by encampment residents and calling for a rights-based National Encampment Response Plan.

Meanwhile, in most major cities across the country, social housing waitlists are over 10 years long and affordable homes are being lost far faster than they are being built, leaving more and more intersectionally marginalized people to an extractive private market where rents are skyrocketing.

We are therefore relieved to see measures that invest in non-market homes and put tenants, people experiencing homelessness, and underserved groups at the centre—but this is just a start. Our governments will need to move full speed ahead to strengthen and further invest in these positive measures, while addressing the disproportionate investment and lack of regulation in the private housing market.

Critical Policy Amendment Needed

Budget 2024’s $15 billion investment in the Apartment Construction Loan Program, for example, holds a bigger price tag than all other measures combined, despite this program producing virtually no affordable housing and providing no downward pressure on rents for over 7 years. In fact, in its previous iteration (the Rental Construction Financing Initiative), this program was proven to create many for-profit rental homes that were above market price. Regrettably, Budget 2024 announces even more flexible affordability, accessibility, and energy efficiency requirements for this program, meaning it will produce no affordable housing for people who need it most.

Likewise, there are no housing affordability requirements tied to the elimination of GST on new rental apartments, the freeze on municipal development charges, or the commitment to lease government land for housing construction. This puts public assets at risk.

We therefore call for strong measures to regulate the private market and improve affordability criteria across all federal housing programs, subsidies, and tax benefits in the Fall Economic Statement (using income-based definitions of affordability). Such measures will also respond to the findings from the recent federal human rights review on the financialization of purpose-built rental housing. During this review, hundreds of people from across the country shared stories and findings about the harmful practices and systemic effects of unregulated private and corporate landlords in the rental sector. Formal recommendations from that review panel will be released in the coming months.

We echo calls from the Social Housing and Human Rights campaign to set clear and robust targets for scaling up social housing, beginning with a minimum of 50,000 net new units per year. We also call for all federal housing and homelessness programs to better target underserved communities who are in greatest housing need, including through a National Encampment Response Plan.

Finally, to provide immediate relief to renters struggling with rising rents today, we call for stronger tenant protections in the Renters’ Bill of Rights, including rent control, vacancy control, and financial assistance for low-income households. Tenants and civil society groups should be directly engaged in the development of this Bill. We also urge provinces and territories to cooperate in supporting and implementing these critical measures.

Applying a Rights-Based Approach

The fundamental right to adequate housing—enshrined into federal legislation in 2019—requires that government policies, programs, and budgetary decision focus on improving housing outcomes for people in greatest need. It also requires that people with lived experience of homelessness and housing need are meaningfully engaged in policy decisions that affect them, and that clear goals and timelines are established to lift people out of inadequate housing and homelessness as urgently as possible.

The policy amendments we have called for above will therefore respond to the urgency of the moment and ensure that public funds are used for public good, in compliance with the right to adequate, affordable, and secure housing for all—especially the most underserved.

“For years, [we have] been calling for a vigorous change of direction by Ottawa in its housing investments, so that they are directed towards the non-profit sector and towards helping individuals and families who are hardest hit by the effects of the crisis. The Federal Housing Advocate and the National Housing Council, two bodies set up by the federal government to monitor the right to adequate housing in Canada, have made recommendations along the same lines. Some of the measures in Canada’s Housing Plan… make such a shift, but incentives to encourage private contractors to build can only result in housing that is unaffordable in the current context.”

– Véronique Laflamme, NRHN Steering Committee member

Further analyses and readings:


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