The federal departments tasked with curbing chronic homelessness in Canada don’t know if the billions of dollars in public money they’ve spent have been effective, Canada’s auditor general reported on Tuesday.
Auditor General Karen Hogan found that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and Infrastructure Canada have failed to collect sufficient data about their programs, which are designed to connect vulnerable people with homes.
These two agencies are largely responsible for delivering the federal government’s National Housing Strategy, which has a target of reducing chronic homelessness by 50 per cent by the 2027-28 fiscal year.
But, without data, there’s no way to know if the government is getting good value for its money, the AG said, or if the 50 per cent target will ever be achieved.
One of the government’s key programs to move people off the streets is the “reaching home” program, which is administered by Infrastructure Canada.
The department spent $1.36 billion between 2019 and 2021 but, Hogan said, “the department did not know whether chronic homelessness and homelessness had increased or decreased since 2019 as a result of this investment.”
Hogan said that Infrastructure Canada hasn’t completed any analysis to determine if a cash infusion the department received during the pandemic has met its targets.
CMHC, which is the lead agency for the National Housing Strategy, has so far spent about $4.5 billion on various initiatives but, Hogan said, “the corporation did not measure the changes in housing outcomes for priority vulnerable groups, including people experiencing homelessness.”
“While the corporation knew vulnerable groups were intended to benefit, it did not know whether those groups were actually occupying housing supported by its initiatives,” Hogan said.
“For example, it did not know whether units intended for people with disabilities were actually occupied by this population.”
‘Affordable’ rental housing unaffordable for many: AG
Hogan also found that CMHC has floated funds to get more “affordable” rental housing built but some of those homes are unaffordable for many low-income people.
Under the housing strategy, the federal government defines affordable rent as anything that costs less than 30 per cent of a household’s before-tax income.
But CMHC uses a different metric: affordable rent is rent that is less than 80 per cent of the median market rent — the middle value of all monthly rents paid in a given area.
That means a large number of the rental housing units built and paid for by public money don’t meet the government’s goal of getting people into homes that will cost less than 30 per cent of their income.
In a majority of Canada’s provinces and territories — eight out of the 13 — households are spending in excess of 30 per cent of their income on so-called “affordable” housing units.
Meanwhile, despite being the lead agency on the housing file, and the recipient of most housing-related funds, CMHC told Hogan that it is “not directly accountable for addressing chronic homelessness.” Infrastructure Canada also said it is “not solely accountable for achieving the strategy’s target of reducing chronic homelessness.”
Based on these responses, Hogan said there is “minimal federal accountability” for actually achieving the government’s stated goals of reducing chronic homelessness by 50 per cent.
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