Federal Liberals will announce ‘renewed’ housing plan in 2024, minister says

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Housing Minister Sean Fraser says Canadians can expect to see a full plan from the federal government in 2024 that lays out how it will tackle the housing crisis.

“We’re working to develop a plan that will pull together the measures we’ve announced and the next measures we will announce into a single place for Canadians to see the full renewed approach,” Fraser said in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press.

The plan would build on the housing policies recently announced by the Liberals, which include eliminating GST charges on rental developments, increasing the amount of low-cost financing available to developers and launching consultations for a catalogue of pre-approved home blueprints that would speed up approvals for projects.

The housing minister has also been travelling the country to sign agreements with municipalities as part of the housing accelerator fund, a program that offers federal dollars in exchange for changes to bylaws and regulations that would boost home construction.

Looking ahead, Fraser said the upcoming plan will unveil measures to alleviate homebuilding cost pressures and outline an industrial strategy to boost productivity.

It will also provide help for those with the deepest housing needs, he added.

The Liberal government’s renewed focus on housing comes as it tries to regain favour with Canadians on affordability issues.

Housing affordability has been a major point of contention in federal politics as the Conservatives fire at the Liberals over skyrocketing rents and mortgage payments.

The Tories are proposing that big cities such as Vancouver be required to increase homebuilding by 15 per cent each year or face financial penalties including the withholding of federal funding. On the other hand, they would reward cities that boost homebuilding with a “building bonus.”

The Conservatives say that they would also mandate that cities pre-approve building permits on available land near transit stations to qualify for federal funds.

The New Democrats are supporting the minority government on key House of Commons votes in exchange for movement on priorities outlined in a deal last year, including the housing accelerator fund.

The NDP, which is pushing for a massive boost in affordable housing, is also taking credit for a one-time rental top-up the government provided this past fall and the removal of GST from new rental builds.

The recent steps taken by the Liberals have been inspired by recommendations received from various housing stakeholders, experts and advocates.

But a major issue looming over housing affordability that has yet to be addressed is the rapid pace of population growth in the country.

The Liberal government has been warned by a growing number of experts who say the pace of immigration is worsening the housing shortage.

Statistics Canada recently reported that the country’s population grew by more than 430,000 during the third quarter, largely due to a surge in temporary residents. This marked the fastest pace of population growth in any quarter since 1957.

The agency said the population growth over the first nine months of 2023 has already surpassed the total growth in any other full year, including the record set in 2022.

Earlier this month, Bank of Canada deputy governor Toni Gravelle gave a speech on the effect of immigration on the economy and inflation in particular.

He warned the fast pace of population growth is adding pressure to a housing market riddled with challenges, including zoning restrictions and a shortage of construction workers.

“This jump in demographic demand coupled with the existing structural supply issues could explain why rent inflation continues to climb in Canada,” Gravelle told the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“It also helps explain, in part, why housing prices have not fallen as much as we had expected.”

In a year-end interview with Global News, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the federal government needs to grapple with this uptick in temporary migration.

“The spike in temporary arrivals over the past two years, that total upward of two million people, (needs) to be responded to,” Trudeau said.

While Canada does have caps on the number of people granted permanent residency each year, there are no limits on international student and temporary foreign worker programs.

In October, Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced new rules to curb fraud in the international student program. He also warned that the federal government is prepared to crack down on dubious post-secondary institutions that recruit international students if provinces aren’t up to the task.

More recently, Miller doubled the financial requirement for applicants, meaning they have to show they have more than $20,000, on top of funds for tuition and travel costs.

Fraser said both the international student program and the temporary foreign worker program bring economic benefits, but he acknowledged that needs to be balanced with housing needs.

“We can work with provincial governments and the institutions or employers to heighten the requirements around providing for the people who come temporarily, including through housing,” Fraser said.

He also suggested tightening up the rules for businesses to access temporary workers.

And if provinces don’t manage to get a grip on influx of international students, Fraser said the government “should reserve the right to take additional steps should they be necessary.”

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