Hon. Robert K. Andras (Minister without Portfolio):
Mr. Speaker, I have indicated to hon. members on a number of occasions that I would be making a statement on the public housing program after some extension of our own reviews and after I received the opinions of each of the provinces. I am pleased to say that, having completed that review of these submissions, I am now in a position to describe some steps which I propose to take which, I am confident, will improve public housing in quantity and quality.
Hon. members will recall, perhaps, that when I presented the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation budget on February 2 I indicated that our commitments for the low-income housing program, including public housing, in 1969 were for some 27,500 units and that this figure was expected to rise to some 35,000 units in 1970. Taken together, commitments for these two years would amount to approximately 75 per cent of all production undertaken in this field in the last 20 years.
As hon. members are aware, a substantial portion of these starts, to which I have just referred, will come from the $200 million fund temporarily reserved for the building of low-income housing of a kind or in circumstances that are likely to yield information or experience which could lead to innovations in the field. About this program I will have more to say within the next few days.
My own studies in all parts of Canada have given me a deep concern, which I know is shared by many hon. members, not only about numbers of units built or projected but about the form, quality, location and management of public housing, and about equity in the matter of rents. It is with these considerations in mind that we have decided on a number of steps which will have a
significant effect, not only on the quality of new low-income housing but on the more effective utilization and management of existing units.
I would like to deal first, since it is a matter of immediate concern to a great number of people, with the matter of rents for public housing. We have proposed to the provinces a revised rent-to-income scale which we feel reflects more closely the realities of the cost of living and the housing market. These proposed revisions are intended to correct deficiencies in the present rent structure. They have, of course, to do with income as it is used in calculating rents; they have to do with security from sudden rent increases; and they have to do with family needs. Just to put these proposals into some kind of prospective, I would like to review briefly the existing situation.
At the present time tenants in public housing who are receiving welfare payments pay an amount of rent that is equal to the shelter payments which they receive from the welfare agency. AH other tenants pay a rent based on their income. The present rent range is from 16.7 per cent of the low to 30 per cent of the higher level of income. I might say that this 30 per cent rate was set at a time when families who had reached this level of income could perhaps have reasonably been expected to find accommodation for themselves on the open market. It was expected that at this stage of income they would move into other accommodation.
In the present market, however, many families, particularly those with a large number of children, have a great deal of difficulty in finding other accommodation when they reach the income level at which the 30 per cent rate comes into effect. They are, by necessity, obliged to stay on in public housing even though they are paying what amounts to an exorbitant and uneconomic rent. In two provinces, Ontario and Newfoundland, this situation has resulted in provincial action to freeze the rents of such tenants.
[DOT] (2:10 p.m.)
Since the level of assistance is based on the simple criterion of income, it imposes a substantially greater burden on a family with five or six children than on a family with one
April 21, 1970
or two children. Although their incomes are the same, the large family is less able to pay.
Another inequity arises when a wife goes out to work. Her earnings over $250 a year are regarded as family income and the excess is added to the husband's in arriving at a rent. On the other hand, no compensation is allowed for one-parent families who do not have this opportunity for additional earning power by virtue of being engaged in the whole process of a parent looking after children. For all tenants, under the present scheme additional earnings normally result in additional rent charges almost immediately.
These are some of the inequities which the government would like to deal with in proposing revisions in the matter of rents. For public housing we are proposing that:
1. Family size should be taken into account in arriving at rents. Taking a family with two children as the base, we are proposing to make a reduction in the rent for each child over that number-for instance, a reduction of $2 per month for each child after the second.
2. Working wives should be allowed to make substantially more than $250 a year before it is considered as income for the purpose of calculating rent. We are proposing a level of $900 a year.
3. Similarly, incomes of one-parent families, for the purpose of calculating rents, would be reduced by up to $900.
4. The portion of income required as rents from families in the higher income ranges would be reduced from 30 per cent to 25 per cent, to avoid imposing undue hardships on tenants, particularly large families, who cannot find alternative accommodation in the present market.
5. The final revision which we are proposing in the matter of rents is the method of adjusting rents as income changes. At the present time, public housing tenants must notify the housing authority as soon as their income increases and the rent is then raised. We feel all tenants should be entitled to enjoy the security of a fixed rent over a reasonable period of time. For this reason we are prepared to have tenants report their incomes at intervals of two years, at which time any increase in rent would be put into effect as a result of any increase in income. On the other hand, a reduction from the income at which the two-year lease rent was negotiated can be reported at any time and the rent reduced an appropriate amount.
Before I leave the subject of rents, Mr. Speaker, I would like to emphasize that any revisions will be undertaken after consultation with the provincial governments and with their co-operation. We recognize the need to build the widest possible latitude into these arrangements so that they will be flexible enough to meet particular local conditions. Some provinces may for various reasons wish to charge rents that are not precisely in accord with the federal scale. In this event it is proposed that the federal subsidy would be either half of the project losses, or half what the losses would have been if the federal scale had been adopted, whichever is less.
We have already held a round of talks with provincial authorities and the initial response indicates a substantial measure of agreement with the objectives we are endeavouring to achieve.
I now wish to deal with some other steps which we are taking which will have a particular effect on new and existing low-income housing.
1. Social and recreation facilities, in both new and existing public housing projects, will be eligible for federal assistance. The precise nature of these facilities will be negotiated with the agencies concerned. By way of illustration, I am talking about such things as community meeting halls, day care nurseries, paramedical physical facilities in homes for the elderly, and the like.
2. Duly constituted public housing tenant associations will be assisted with grants. As these groups develop, it is apparent that for the most part they are reasonable, articulate and informed. We feel that this kind of selfhelp activity deserves to be encouraged.
3. A more progressive attitude to public housing tenants' rights will be encouraged with the publication of a revised and, I hope, more sensitive manual for housing authorities, which will include a model lease.
4. In co-operation with the provinces we shall undertake formal training programs in public housing management. We are already providing continuing assistance through our research program under part V of the National Housing Act for the further study of public housing performance standards and user requirements.
While it is our firm resolve to increase the quantity of housing for low-income people as expeditiously as possible, no opportunity will be overlooked for improving the physical qualities of new developments to overcome objections to some past projects. Indeed, many
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of the design proposals for developments undertaken in 1969 were altered to incorporate recommendations of the task force and suggestions presented to me during my own investigation of projects in all parts of the country. Certainly, for example, there has been strong criticism of the practice of providing public housing primarily in the form of high-rise apartment buildings.
Sub-subtopic: STATEMENT ON PUBLIC HOUSING PROGRAM