By Dr. Alan Walks (Professor, Geography and Planning, University of Toronto), Sean Grisdale (PhD Candidate, Geography and Planning, University of Toronto), and the Affordable Housing Challenge Partnership collective
Affordable housing has emerged as one of the biggest concerns of voters during the 2021 federal election, in part because of the rapid increase in house prices that has occurred over the last two decades, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each of the main national-scale political parties has promised new policies they claim will promote greater affordability of housing. The newsmedia is already full of commentaries on how these policies will or will not affect housing affordability. Of course, what is meant by ‘affordable housing’ is rarely defined, whether by these commentators or the political parties themselves, yet the definition of ‘affordable’ matters very much to these conversations.
In this blog post, we offer our thoughts on each of the housing policies contained in the major national-scale federal party platforms, and we comment on their effects in both a) making housing more affordable, which we define as declining average real rents in the rental sector, and declining average real prices in the owner-occupied sector, and b) building new rental units that are affordable according to i) the principles set out by the CMHC, which states that housing is affordable if the household spends less than 30 percent of their before-tax budget on housing, and ii) a common definition of affordable rental housing in Ontario, which states that a rental unit is affordable if it rents for less than 80 percent of the average market rent in its locality.
Furthermore, any discussion of housing affordability cannot avoid discussions of housing equity and equality. If a policy leads to declining rents or prices for the rich, but rising prices or rents for lower-income households, it is a policy that increases housing inequality and hurts those who need affordability the most. It is therefore important that we comment on the equity aspects of each policy. Ideally, we should only see policies that a) make housing more affordable, and b) produce new affordable rental units, and c) reduce housing-based inequalities. However, our analysis suggests that many of the policies being promoted by the federal political parties fail on one or more of these criteria.
Three national-scale political parties have released lengthy policy platforms: the Liberal Party of Canada, the Conservative Party of Canada, and the New Democratic Party. We comment on how and whether each of the policies listed in those platforms would lead to:
- New affordable rental housing,
- Alleviation (or augmentation) of existing housing-based equalities, and
- Housing that is more affordable (declining rents and prices).
Detail is provided for the assessment of each policy below.
It is instructive to calculate what proportion of the stated platform policies from each political party would actually make housing more affordable and/or reduce housing-based inequalities (see above). Each political party is proposing some policies that would make housing more affordable or create affordable housing, yet at the same time each political party is also proposing measures that make housing LESS affordable.
On balance, the NDP platform contains the largest proportion (50 percent) of policies that would actually lead to greater affordability, and is tied with the Conservative Party for having the least number of policies that would actually make housing less affordable (13 percent). Only a small proportion of both the Liberal Party platform (15 percent) and Conservative Party platform (13 percent) involves policies that would produce greater affordability with any certainty. However, there are also some policies that could potentially improve affordability in each of the Liberal platform (15 percent), Conservative platform (13 percent) and NDP platform (13 percent). There is a similar pattern related to the proportions of each platform that would produce new affordable rental units. A greater proportion of the NDP platform policies (38 percent) would result in the construction of new rental housing than the Conservative platform (25 percent of policies) or the Liberal platform (15 percent). This means that a majority of the policies proposed by each of the three parties would NOT result in the production of new affordable rental housing. However, in terms of the actual numbers of affordable rental units promised, at upwards of close to 500,000 new units the NDP proposal is far ahead of the Liberals, who have only promised 20,000 new units, or the Conservatives, who did not list a targeted number of new units they think their platform would help build.
In terms of policies that would reduce housing-based inequalities, as a proportion of the policies directed to housing in the party election platforms, the NDP is far ahead with 63 percent of their policies promoting greater housing-based equality, compared to the Liberals (15 percent) or the Conservatives (25 percent). However, it is also instructive that 25 percent of both the NDP and Conservative platforms, and 35 percent of the Liberal Party platform, involve policies that would actually worsen housing-based inequalities. Furthermore, in many cases not enough information is provided about how the policy will work to properly assess the outcomes, in which case the outcome is deemed unclear.