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Singh says it’s time for a fresh $500 housing benefit payment

NDP leader says federal government has done an abysmal job on making housing affordable
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, June 13, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

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. It cost the government $475 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.”

He said he also 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.

READ ALSO: Feds should front a third of student housing costs, NDP’s Singh says at UVic