Now more than ever, Canadians face unprecedented challenges finding affordable housing that meets their needs.
According to the most recent data available, the rental vacancy rate in Canada was 1.9%, compared to 3.1% a year ago, resulting in a 5.4% increase in rents for 2021 to 2022.
Conditions in property markets are no better – while house prices have fallen an average of 15.4% over the past year, sharp increases in mortgage rates have wiped out most of the gains in growth. affordability for homeowners, especially first-time home buyers. If this continues, housing problems in Canada will deteriorate further, leading to increased social inequality and broader socio-economic problems that are far more difficult to address. To successfully address these challenges, key stakeholders must unify and commit to taking concrete action. History suggests it is possible.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for the growth of the digital economy, with millions of Canadians working remotely from home. Canadians seized the opportunity to improve their working conditions and reduce their relative cost of living by moving to traditionally lower-cost communities outside major urban centres. But it has made the housing problem – previously mostly a phenomenon of large urban centers – a nationwide problem.
At the same time, population growth, spurred in part by necessary increases to our immigration targets, has driven demand for housing soaring, triggering steep price increases for rents and home ownership. To restore housing affordability to levels seen in the early 2000s, CMHC estimates that the pace of housing construction will need to accelerate by an additional 3.5 million units by 2030.
The reality is that no government alone will ever be able to fix this situation. Even if fully coordinated, federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments would benefit from further support, alignment and coordination with other stakeholders to address our national housing challenge.
Under the old regime, the King of France brought together the whole of society (then composed of the clergy, the nobility and the people) during the Estates General to advise him on key national and fiscal issues. More recently, in 1966, the Estates General of French Canada was a series of conferences that brought together thousands of stakeholders from Quebec, Acadia and Ontario to help define the future of the country. In 1995, the Government of Quebec convened the Estates General on Education, where a public commission conducted consultations with stakeholders from across civil society in order to reflect and suggest ways to modernize and improve Quebec’s education system. Both marked turning points in history, and Canadian Estates General on Housing can do the same for our housing challenge.
A process of mobilization and consultation at the local, regional and provincial levels would culminate in a week-long national summit where each participant would agree to contribute to concrete solutions to the housing crisis, commit to taking measurable and to report in the short, medium and long term.
Each housing stakeholder would also commit to reporting quarterly on their progress in improving the state of housing in the country. Ideally, the convener of these Estates General on Housing would be an organization where interests are sufficiently diffused to avoid a single speaker having a concentration of power.
When it comes to housing, the challenges are enormous, but the stakes are even higher. If Canadian housing stakeholders can unite, we will have a generational opportunity to improve our communities and our country, ensuring that every Canadian can reach their full potential, starting with finding a home. This will require compromise and frank discussion, but it could eventually make Canada stronger by improving the standard of living of its citizens.