Jun. 08, 2020

Habitat for Humanity Canada on affordable housing in the age of COVID-19

On June 5, 2020 – the 75th anniversary of United Nations & World Environment Day – the Urban Economy Forum, in partnership with UN Habitat and the Government of Canada, held a roundtable with Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau, “ANALYSING IMPACTS OF COVID-19 ON CANADIAN URBAN ECONOMY”.

Habitat for Humanity Canada was invited to share its perspective, which follows below:

I am Julia Deans and I am the President and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Canada.

Our goal is a world where everyone has a decent and affordable place to call home.

We work with volunteers, donors, Habitat homeowners, 53 local Habitats and all orders of government to help low-income families, including Indigenous families on and off-reserve, build strength, stability and independence through affordable homeownership.

Habitat homeowners represent some of the vulnerable populations most impacted by COVID-19.

The uncertainties and anxieties each of us is experiencing today are nothing new for vulnerable people.

Imagine trying to work and educate your children in an unsafe and insecure place.

As we think about meeting housing needs, we shouldn’t focus only on the people we see – the homeless people living on streets and in parks. Providing shelter to the homeless is critical, but equally critical is providing an off-ramp from temporary housing to stable, long-term options, especially for families.

Our housing spectrum is interconnected and interdependent. We must invest in all of its parts. Housing is infrastructure. Investing in housing is investing in bricks and mortar but also in the families and communities we need.

To fully contribute to our economic and social success, people need stable and safe homes and safe and stable access to transportation and services, education and training, jobs and improved health outcomes.

Canada has recently made significant investments in affordable housing under its National Housing Strategy. With the pressure on affordable housing providers to do even more, continuing these investments is critical to building the affordable housing people need, especially in cities.

What else is critical?

  • access to land, land that is affordable, with differentiated property taxes and development fees to allow homes to stay affordable in perpetuity
  • this includes identifying and freeing up surplus government lands for affordable housing;
  • revising building and zoning regulations to encourage and accelerate affordable housing for the people who will rebuild and sustain our cities and their economies; and
  • Infrastructure funding to invest in housing, and innovations to improve the safety and resilience of housing and communities.

We need to create affordable housing together and with a sense of urgency.