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GUEST COLUMN: Will the cost of housing swing the federal election?

 (Postmedia Network file photo)
(Postmedia Network file photo)

Tim Ross
Special to Postmedia Network

Recent polls have shown that the number one ballot issue for Canadians is the cost of living. To no one’s surprise the largest expense for the average Canadian is housing, and the current housing system is not working for Canadians.

Home ownership is out of reach for many. Rents are too high. Incomes continue to be outpaced by home prices and Canada’s homeless population continues to grow. As one reporter puts it, currently “ waiting for baby boomers to die is not effective housing policy .”

Political parties have started to take notice that for an increasing number of Canadians across the country, the biggest stress is the cost of housing. In the lead up to this election we have already seen more attention to the cost of housing than any federal election in memory.

The political parties are expected to further outline their platforms to address the affordable housing crisis. My advice to the political leaders is to focus on solutions from across the housing spectrum.

During the 1960s and 1990s the federal government sponsored about 20,000 community housing units a year. However, in the mid 1990s this steady investment stopped. We need to return to the practice of building more non-profit and community housing.

One extremely successful and proven model of community housing is co-op housing. Today over a quarter of a million Canadians live in housing co-ops. Co-ops are owned and controlled by the people who live there. Rents are set by the members to cover the costs of maintaining the co-op today and for future generations. Housing co-ops are model communities serving a diverse range of backgrounds, ages, family status and incomes.

The federal government can address the housing crisis with policy and funding that actually works for working Canadians. The next federal government needs to bring its deep pockets to the table to make community housing development financially viable across the country.

Long-term development grants, financing, and freeing up federal vacant land can help build a more affordable housing supply that includes co-ops. Rent-Geared-to-Income programs need to be made permanent and more accessible for the average Canadian.

As home prices continue to outpace incomes of working Canadians, the affordability stresses will continue to rise among Canadian families.

As voters, it’s up to us to pick the next party with the best plan to fix the housing crisis for all Canadians. Let’s return the Canadian housing system to some level of fairness and sanity with a healthy range of great, creative options such as co-operative housing.

Tim Ross is Executive Director for the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada.

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