Housing is so far out of reach for many Canadians, even rental properties. Photo by Mickey Conlon

Housing looms on electoral battleground

  • September 21, 2023

The tone was set during the first question period on Sept. 18 following the parliamentary summer break, with Leader of the Official Opposition Pierre Poilievre taking direct aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s handling of the Canadian housing market.

“After eight years under this Prime Minister, the cost of housing has doubled. Interest rates are rising faster than at any other time in our country’s economic history. Even former Liberal finance minister John Manley said that the Prime Minister’s inflationary deficits are behind the rising interest rates, which are preventing people from building and buying homes,” said Poilievre in building on a familiar theme from his attacks on the Liberal government.

Trudeau’s response: “Mr. Speaker, actions speak louder than words and we are taking action. We are building thousands of housing units in London and cutting red tape. We are encouraging cities like Calgary to present even more ambitious proposals and we are making sure that affordable apartments are built across the country by cutting the GST on construction.”

This is just the opening salvo of what is expected to be a sustained war of words over the state of housing in Canada. It is expected to continue until the next election, which is scheduled for 2025.

But a war of words will not help those most in need. It’s no secret that Canada faces a housing crisis, with affordability being the number one issue. That is the same for those looking to purchase a house and those in need of a rental property.

Bindu Narula, director of resettlement and integration services for Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS), sees the issue up close everyday. She said the immigrant community in Canada has been hard hit, something that became obvious over the summer in Toronto when hundreds of immigrants were found to be living on the streets in downtown Toronto until some suburban churches offered them shelter.

Narula acknowledges 2023 has been difficult to navigate for CCIS. She claims landlords are price gouging, which is making it difficult to find a place for individuals and families arriving in Calgary. Meanwhile, previously settled clients are receiving word of substantial rent increases with little warning.

“When we have, for example, a one-bedroom apartment, we were paying around $1,100 or $1,200,” said Narula. “Now we have gone up to $1,800 or $1,900. That is quite a lot.”

Claudio Ruiz, who became the executive director of Catholic Crosscultural Services (CCS) in Toronto in August, said the “situation is dire because there is a shortage of affordable housing in the city.”

The purview of CCS is largely focused on helping newcomers find jobs and connecting them with a host of community services. Finding housing is not an operational mandate. But Ruiz said asylum seekers share their stories of living on the streets because there is no shelter for them.

“That is simply not an acceptable solution in a place like Canada,” said Ruiz.

The numbers — last year Canada welcomed almost one million newcomers, either immigrants or international students, and the Liberals are looking to bring in 500,000 immigrants this year — lead some to blame Canada’s immigration system for the crisis. Narula says that is a mistaken criticism.

“I think that people have very little understanding of what is going on in the housing market,” said Narula. “I think there are doable things that can be done at a government level to take care of the housing crisis right now. By scapegoating immigrants and newcomers, we’re only going to dig a hole for ourselves in society.”

Both Narula and Ruiz identify Trudeau’s $74 million agreement to build 2,000 new homes in London through the Housing Accelerator Fund, which the PM touted is the first of many deals, as a potential alleviator for the long-term. But both say more needs to be done to tame the current crisis.

“(The government) needs to look at the resources already in each community,” said Ruiz.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.