Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland met with Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson to discuss several key issues including affordable housing. This topic came to the fore in the wake of a federal announcement this week to better fund provincial and municipal affordable housing projects. Freeland and Iveson both highlighted the urgency of this issue, especially in light of what they called “social disorder” due to growing populations of people facing homelessness in Edmonton’s downtown.
The CRHC plans to build 4,000 affordable homes over a four-year period using the National Housing Strategy Co-Investment Fund. This number is in line with the city’s goals to build 900 homes over a similar time span and despite uncertainty about getting the necessary funds from the province.
I have always believed that barriers to affordable housing have terrible consequences for Canadian families and that addressing these shortages by building new affordable developments is an act of social justice that must be taken. While homes are expensive in Edmonton and across the country, there needs to be room made by our elected officials for real options that can change the lives of Canadian families.
However, there are three further issues at hand: firstly, it remains to be understood how the new federal funding will be distributed across the country. How will this process be overseen and who will be consulted? Transparency is needed to ensure that families in need are the primary beneficiaries of the funding through housing and social programming.
Secondly, while housing is a basic need, addressing social problems does not stop there. The issues which lead to homelessness are deep-rooted and go beyond brick and mortar. They point to broken communities, inaccessible mental-health and addictions resources, poor economic and job opportunities and more. Supporting healthy communities while building affordable homes is essential for these pursuits to succeed and for people who struggle with homelessness to get the support they deserve and are entitled to.
Lastly, serving as the director of community engagement for the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC), I know that community organizations are a crucial, often-overlooked partner for addressing what was termed as “social disorder.” I have seen first-hand how essential healthy communities are for the support of at-risk populations and that community organizations are doing this frontline work.
Last week, MAC’s chairman met with the Minister of Family, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen to discuss government programs for Canadians, including affordable housing. The minister agreed that one of the most important responsibilities of government is to ensure every Canadian family has a home, and that this is a priority of the Liberal government. Just last month, MAC leadership met with the Government of Alberta, the CHRC and other community organizations to discuss the impact of the housing shortage on refugee families and other groups facing significant social barriers and explored some tangible options for addressing these problems.
Community organizations like MAC are an important resource for providing deeper insights into what remains to be done and what collective action can and must be taken in the face of the crisis. I would even go so far as to say that community organizations like MAC do enough humanitarian work to know that the outcome for these pursuits should be justice — not “order,” first and foremost.
The opposite of “social disorder” should be understood as dignity, equality and the fulfillment of human rights — principles which MAC has striven to uphold over our last two decades of growth across the country. MAC also knows that this process requires long-term commitment, local consultation and flexible programming such as rent-to-own initiatives alongside family education and mental health services.
Social problems related to homelessness cannot be addressed without community. Canadian families deserve the dignity of a home, the opportunity to pursue an education as well as the support of community organizations that have consistently heard their needs and governments which follow suit.
Governments should maintain total transparency on the issue of affordable housing and remain accountable to Canadian families through the community organizations which serve them and take a holistic approach to social justice.
Issam Saleh serves as as the director of community engagement for the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC) and is a board member with the Capital Region Housing Corporation.