Mandate letter for Ahmed Hussen
The Trudeau government publishes the mandate letters that it provides to each cabinet minister. Here's the mandate related to housing for Ahmed Hussen, the federal minister responsible for housing.
It's a long list. To try to group and prioritize it:
(1) Making it easier for first-time homebuyers to compete. The Fairness in Real Estate Action Plan, at the top, is basically a number of measures aimed at restricting speculation and investment. The rent-to-own program also falls in this category.
(2) Measures aimed at increasing supply, focused more on rental housing. The Housing Accelerator Fund, conversion of unused office space to residential, review of the Rental Construction Financing Initiative (low-cost loans for rental projects), review of the Federal Lands Initiative, more funding for the National Housing Co-Investment Fund (to build more below-market housing).
(3) Funding for Indigenous housing (presumably Indigenous Services would be taking the lead).
(4) Funding for homeless veterans, working with the Minister of Veterans Affairs.
I should point out that although the federal government gets most of the media coverage and attention, it's really local governments that decide what gets built. There's typically a zoning code that limits what can be built where, and then some kind of discretionary process to override the zoning code for individual projects.
Because homeowners are much more likely to vote (and to pressure elected officials) than renters, local governments typically reflect the interests of homeowners. The main countervailing power pushing for more housing is developers (the "growth machine"), but since the 1970s, homeowners have been in the ascendant, and so local governments have tended to limit the amount of housing that can be built. For an explanation, see William Fischel, The Rise of the Homevoters: How the Growth Machine Was Subverted by OPEC and Earth Day (2016).
Local governments are creations of the provincial government, so the provinces (Ontario and BC) have the power to override local opposition to new housing. So far they've been reluctant to do so, but the flood of pandemic savings into the real estate market (driving up prices and locking first-time homebuyers out of the market) may force their hand.
The federal government doesn't have the direct levers that the provinces do, but they can use their funding power to provide carrots and sticks.
From the letter: Work with provinces, territories, municipalities and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance to develop a Fairness in Real Estate Action Plan that includes:
Amendments to the Income Tax Act to require landlords to disclose in their tax filings the rent they receive pre- and post-renovation and to pay a proportional surtax if the increase in rent is excessive;
An anti-flipping tax on residential properties, requiring properties to be held for at least 12 months;
A temporary ban on foreign buyers of non-recreational residential property in the Canadian housing market so that housing does not sit vacant and unavailable to Canadians;
Supporting the review of, and possible reforms to, the tax treatment of Real Estate Investment Trusts;
Developing policies to curb excessive profits in investment properties while protecting small independent landlords;
Reviewing the down payment requirements for investment properties;
Increased consumer protection and transparency in real estate transactions, including a ban on blind bidding;
Identifying how federal regulators can be better positioned to respond to housing price fluctuations and to help ensure a more stable Canadian housing market; and
Invest in a new Housing Accelerator Fund to support municipalities in increasing the housing supply in Canada’s largest cities through measures such as inclusionary zoning, increased densification, reductions in construction approval timelines and the rapid development of vacant or underused lands.
With the support of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, make critical investments and priority policy decisions to expand Canada’s housing supply, and continue to advance our investments in affordable housing and extend the model of co-operative housing to new communities.
To help make it easier for renters to get on the path to home ownership, create a fund to test, develop and scale up rent-to-own projects across the country. Support the conversion of empty office and retail space in the federal portfolio and in commercial buildings into market-based housing; work with municipalities to support a fast-track permitting system for conversions; and undertake reforms to the Rental Construction Financing Initiative to ensure the program is maximizing affordability, energy efficiency and accessibility outcomes, while processing applications in a more timely and transparent manner. Introduce enhancements to the Federal Lands Initiative to ensure the federal government is more effectively deploying its inventory of lands to advance the objectives of the National Housing Strategy. Increase funding to the National Housing Co-Investment Fund to help affordable housing providers acquire land and buildings to build and preserve more units, extend the model of co-operative housing to new communities, accelerate critical repairs and develop projects for vulnerable groups including women, youth and people with disabilities.
Proceed with the appointment of a new Federal Housing Advocate to monitor progress in meeting the goals of the National Housing Strategy, including ending chronic homelessness, and move forward with our plan to invest in Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, to support communities across the country.
Accelerate our Government’s commitment to end chronic homelessness among Veterans through the Rapid Housing Initiative, a new rent supplement program, wrap around supports and a dedicated stream of funding for Veterans within the National Housing Co-Investment Fund. You will be supported in this work by the Minister of Veterans Affairs.
With the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Minister of Northern Affairs, Minister of Indigenous Services and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities, and in partnership with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, continue to make immediate and long-term investments to support ongoing work to close the infrastructure gap by 2030, with a particular focus on expediting investments in Indigenous housing, with over half of the funding available by the upcoming summer construction period. With Indigenous partners, co-develop an Urban, Rural and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy, a stand-alone companion to the National Housing Strategy, supported by dedicated investments, and create Canada’s first-ever National Indigenous Housing Centre. You will be supported in this work by the Minister of Northern Affairs. Expand the eligibility requirements of the deep home retrofit loan program to include more climate resilience measures, while also ensuring the program remains accessible to both individual homeowners and multi-unit residential buildings.