Archbishop Fred Hiltz and Bishop Susan Johnson sent a reminder today to Minister Diane Finley, the newly appointed Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development to live up to a pre-election promise that a Conservative government would renew three key programs for affordable housing in Canada.

The three programs are: the Affordable Housing Initiative and the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, offering support to hundreds of community programs and services across Canada, and the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program directed to the repair of more than 20,000 substandard houses annually. These funding programs were due to expire by March 2009.

“We remind you of [your] commitment” the church leaders’ letter says, “and urge you now to announce a quick release of funds so there can be a smooth continuation of these vital programs.”

The request echoes a letter the two leaders sent earlier this year to Monte Solberg, then Minister of Human Resources and Development Canada, a message that was repeated in hundreds of similar letters sent by Anglicans and Lutherans across Canada.

One week before National Housing Day, November 22, Hiltz and Johnson are calling for an immediate renewal of affordable housing programs and a comprehensive national housing strategy as part of an overall poverty reduction initiative.

Their letter echoes the one they sent in March but with a new twist: an affordable housing strategy is good not only for the homeless and those at risk, but also for Canada’s economy.

Quoting an article in the Toronto Star by economists Donner, Yalnizyan and McCracken, they point out, “Acting today on affordable housing can provide a much needed boost to the economy during bad times while reducing economic insecurity and building assets for the long term.”

The two church leaders urge immediate action:. “A positive response by your government, with specific action on commitments, by Friday, November 21 [the eve of National Housing Day] would offer hope to Canadian families and individuals hard hit by the housing crisis.”

The full text of their letter follows


November 14, 2008

The Honourable Diane Finley
Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Dear Minister Finley,

We write as Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada and National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and congratulate you on your recent appointment to cabinet. We will keep you, and other members of your government in our prayers during these challenging times.

This letter follows on previous correspondence from us and other church leaders, consistently calling on the government of Canada to act in response to the homeless and those at risk of losing their housing. It is estimated that between 150,000 to 300,000 Canadians are homeless, and an additional 1.5 million are at risk of becoming homeless. Rental rates are increasing, while household incomes of rental families are decreasing. In October 2007, the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing called homelessness in Canada a “national emergency”.

We acknowledge with appreciation that in March 2006, the government of Canada under Prime Minister Stephen Harper disbursed $1.4 billion in a one-time allocation for affordable housing.

We further acknowledge the September 17 announcement made by Ministers John Baird and Monte Solberg pledging that a Conservative government would renew the Affordable Housing Initiative, the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, and the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program.

We remind you of this commitment, and urge you now to announce a quick release of the funds so there can be a smooth continuation of these vital programs. The homelessness funding initiatives support hundreds of vital program and services in communities across Canada, while the housing repair programs improve more than 20,000 substandard homes annually.

The current economic crisis makes the need for an in-depth, long-term affordable housing initiative more urgent than ever before. We see the federal government as a vital partner with provincial and territorial governments and other key sectors. The slowing economy threatens to increase the ranks of the homeless, forcing people at risk into deplorable housing conditions, often paying half or more of their income in rent.

An affordable housing strategy makes good economic sense. We commend to your attention the words of economists Arthur Donner, Mike McCracken and Armine Yalnizyan who recently wrote that: “An investment in residential construction that creates affordable housing options can help keep thousands of middle-class workers employed. Acting today on affordable housing can provide a much-needed boost to the economy during bad times while reducing economic insecurity and building assets for the long term.” (Toronto Star, Oct. 21, 2008).

Thus we are asking your government to:

  1. Join with the provinces to develop a comprehensive housing strategy as a part of an overall national poverty reduction strategy.
  2. Immediately renew and expand housing spending over a ten-year period as a part of a comprehensive national housing strategy.
  3. Direct particular funding to groups on the margins of our society, especially people of low income, the elderly, persons with disabilities, recent immigrants and refugees, and Aboriginal people.

Anglicans and Lutherans are engaged across Canada in providing food, shelter and clothing to Canada’s lowest income people. Many are providing housing to special needs groups or redeveloping property into social housing. These initiatives cannot continue without housing dollars committed by your government. Together, we wish to extend a hand of partnership to ensure long term and lasting solutions to homelessness.

In the Hebrew Scriptures the prophet Isaiah asks what true religious observance is: “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house?” (Isaiah 58.7) Our vision is to go beyond the prophet’s call, to create a society where the hungry are able to eat their own bread, and the homeless poor are brought into their own house.

This issue is urgent, even more so when a perceived scarcity of resources threatens to call into question previously stated priorities of your government. We respectfully request a prompt reply signalling that your government will take quick and decisive action. November 22 is National Housing Day, when Canadians from coast to coast draw attention to affordable housing issues. A positive response by your government, with specific action on commitments, by Friday November 21 would offer hope to Canadian families and individuals hard hit by the housing crisis.

Thank you for respecting the urgency of this request.

Sincerely,

The Most Reverend Fred Hiltz
Primate, The Anglican Church of Canada
The Rev. Susan Johnson
National Bishop, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada

c.c. The Hon. Mike Savage, the Hon. Tony Martin, the Hon. Yves Lessard.