OTTAWA — The federal government needs to issue another $500 benefit payment for low-income families struggling to keep a roof over their heads, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Thursday.
Singh was in Sooke, B.C., on a cross-country summer tour where the national housing crisis and ongoing anxiety about the cost of living is taking centre stage.
In an interview, he said the federal Liberals have done an "abysmal" job dealing with the housing crisis and he intends to make the upcoming fall sitting of Parliament all about getting more housing built.
"They're a failure," he said bluntly of the Liberals.
He said the NDP have a long list of policies they want the government to implement, but chief among them is a second top-up to the Canada Housing Benefit targeting low-income Canadians who spend more than a third of their income on rent.
The first $500 top-up, which was announced in September 2022 alongside a temporary boost to the GST rebate, was rolled out just before Christmas.
The government budgeted $475 million for the program. Statistics reported by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. say 815,190 individuals and families applied for the benefit for a total cost of $402 million.
The one-time housing benefit payment was among the items in the supply-and-confidence agreement reached between the Liberals and NDP in March 2022. The agreement lists policy items the two will collaborate on in exchange for the NDP supporting the Liberals on key votes to prevent the minority government from being defeated.
The agreement says the government should consider a second round of the housing benefit payment if cost-of-living issues continue.
When asked if he thinks that applies now, Singh said: "Yes, absolutely."
Singh said the agreement has worked the way he had hoped it would, allowing for progressive NDP policies to be implemented, including a dental care benefit for children in low and middle-income families. He also agreed that the recent trouble the Liberals have had in the polls increases the leverage the NDP have to push for even more than was spelled out in the deal.
The Liberals have fallen below the Conservatives in most polls, and some have the Conservatives verging on majority territory. The change would suggest the Liberals have more at stake — such as losing their governing status altogether — if they don't keep the NDP onside.
Singh said the deal was never meant to be a complete list of what the NDP would demand, and he does anticipate pushing for more in the months to come.
He said he wants more co-operation between Ottawa, provinces and post-secondary schools to build student housing, as well as a fund to buy-up affordable homes that are at risk of being sold to developers and builders who won't keep them affordable.
Singh said the "housing acquisition fund" would "prevent us from losing the affordable homes that we do have."
"That would prevent a building being bought up by a developer and then the tenants being renovicted," he said.
"Instead, that building that does have affordable rent could then be kept in the hands of the community with this fund, and that would allow for a community group, a not-for-profit or even the residents to turn it into a co-operative."
The Liberals have said housing is their chief priority right now, as millions of Canadians face rising rents and increased mortgage costs on top of a housing market that has seen house prices soar in the last few years.
A recent cabinet retreat in Charlottetown was heavily focused on the issue, but the government did not announce any new policies there.
Many housing experts and economists say the main problem is a basic lack of housing supply. There are not enough houses in almost any category to keep up with demand.
Singh said he recently spoke to a family in Alberta with two good-paying jobs who were going to lose their home because they could not afford the rising rent.
He said for the Liberals to leave their cabinet retreat without any solutions on the table is not acceptable.
In an emailed response, a spokesperson for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland's office said the housing accelerator fund is "incentivizing municipalities to build more homes faster," and cited the new tax-free first home savings account program introduced in the federal budget.
"We knew we needed to provide important relief to the most vulnerable, particularly last year when inflation was elevated," said spokesperson Jessica Eritou. "While inflation has fallen to 3.3 per cent, down from its peak of 8.1 per cent in June of last year, we remain focused on making housing more affordable for Canadians."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2023.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press