Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Issue 21 - Evidence, April 26, 2007

OTTAWA, Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Subcommittee on Cities of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology met this day at 11:08 a.m. to examine and report on current social issues pertaining to Canada's largest cities.

Senator Art Eggleton (Chairman) in the chair.


The Chairman: I call to order this meeting of the subcommittee of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. Today we are holding our first hearing to study poverty, homelessness and housing.


Poverty and homelessness are interconnected. For this reason, we have chosen to explore these two issues at the same time.


It has also become clear that the subjects of poverty, homelessness and housing will play a dominant role in the studies of both our subcommittees. The subcommittee on population and health identified poverty as a key determinant of health. As well, poverty, homelessness and housing have a major concentration in the cities of Canada and are going to play a significant role in the study of the subcommittee on cities. Therefore, we have decided to bring the two subcommittees together — making it the main committee — for purposes of this study.

Our first witnesses today are from the Department of Human Resources and Social Development Canada, HRSDC, which was created in February 2006 through the merger of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and the former Social Development Canada. The minister of the newly created entity, the Honourable Monte Solberg, was also made responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, CMHC. This entity has a broad social and economic mandate that affects every Canadian. The department is responsible for policies, programs and services that support the social well-being of individuals, families and communities, and their participation in society and the economy.

From HRSDC, I welcome Andrew Treusch, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy and Research Branch, and Bayla Kolk, Acting Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Income Security and Social Development Branch, and from CMHC, Sharon Matthews, Vice-President, Assisted Housing. Mr. Treusch, please proceed.

Andrew Treusch, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy and Research Branch, Human Resources and Social Development Canada: Thank you for the invitation to appear today. I am pleased to be back before a Senate committee.


As you know, this is a vast and complex subject, so I thought it would be useful to begin our discussion by defining the issue.


Like many countries, Canada has no official poverty line but the typically used measure is the Statistics Canada post-tax low-income cut-off called LICO, which I will rely upon today. Other measures include the low-income measure, LIM, and the market basket measure, MBM. These measures give similar trends over time, although the aggregate results are a bit different. Beyond the incidence of poverty, other key dimensions that the committee might wish to consider include family versus individual income, the depth of low income and persistence over time.

On an international basis, Canada sits somewhere in the middle of the OECD, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, countries in terms of both incidence and persistence of low income. We do better than the U.S. and the U.K. while we do less well than some European countries.


In terms of intergenerational transmission of poverty, Canada does better than most nations, similar to Nordic countries.


In 2004, the last year for which data is available, the low-income rate for Canada was 11.2 per cent, down from 15.7 per cent in 1996. Child poverty rates dropped from 18.6 per cent to 12.8 per cent, although there has been a slight upturn in recent years. Seniors fell from 9.8 per cent to 5.6 per cent over the same period. Overall, the trends are positive. Some groups fare less well than others. For instance, persons with disabilities register a low-income rate of 32 per cent and female lone parents have a rate of 36 per cent. The low-income rate for Aboriginal Canadians living off- reserve is 21 per cent while recent immigrants have a rate of 24 per cent.

There are a couple of other factors. For persistent poverty — defined as poverty over a four-year period — the rate between 1993 and 1998 was 8.6 per cent. Today, it is down to 5.5 per cent. The depth of low income — the average gap between actual income and the post-tax LICO — for families of two or more persons has been relatively stable over the last 20 years but has risen for unattached individuals. These rates vary across Canada.

Interestingly, three Atlantic provinces have the lowest rates of low income — Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Rates in central Canadian provinces and across the Prairies are within range of the overall average. Newfoundland and Labrador and British Columbia, at either end of the country, have the highest low-income rates at 12.2 per cent and 14.2 per cent respectively.

With respect to urban poverty, there are not marked differences in the rates of poverty in urban versus rural areas; however, there are unmarked differences. The vast majority of Canadians, 80 per cent, live in large urban centres and so, too, do the vast majority of low-income Canadians at 85 per cent. Most of these live in three provinces — Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.

Low-income Canadians in urban settings tend to be younger and unattached, are more likely to be recent immigrants and, typically, rent rather than own. The federal government's role is too broad for me to discuss in the time available today. Obviously, labour market performance is a key determinant of income and poverty as is a progressive income tax system and a vast range of federal and provincial programs and services, including those aimed at support of families and children. These measures include: seniors' income support programs; new commitments to a working income tax benefit; the employment insurance program; labour market development agreements; new commitments to a broader labour market agreement; Aboriginal human resource strategies; efforts to address foreign credential recognition and the new foreign credential referral office; supports for persons with disabilities through the Canada Pension Plan and labour market agreements and disability supports; and federal-provincial transfers, notably the Canada Social Transfer in support of social assistance and social services.

I would ask Ms. Kolk to address the homelessness aspect.

Bayla Kolk, Acting Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Homelessness and Partnering Strategy, Human Resources and Social Development Canada: Thank you for the invitation to speak to the homelessness situation in Canada and the federal government's response to this issue, in particular the new Homelessness Partnering Strategy, HPS, that came into effect on April 1, 2007.

Homelessness continues to be a serious issue in Canada. It is difficult to calculate the numbers of homeless persons in Canada. We know that, at a minimum, 150,000 people use shelters every year. Others are either on the streets or living with friends and family. We call them the ``hidden homeless,'' away from the public eye and outside the shelter system. Census 2001 indicates that 13.7 per cent, or 1.5 million households, are in core housing need, which means they cannot access adequate, suitable and affordable housing. We know that over 500,000 of those in core need spend 50 per cent or more of their income on shelter costs and thus face the risk of becoming homeless.

Homelessness is not a one-note issue but rather it is multi-faceted and linked to the poverty indicators that Mr. Treusch mentioned. A range of intertwined factors contribute to homelessness. Despite recent economic growth, the income of the poorest 20 per cent of families remained stagnant as shelter costs increased. There is a housing affordability gap tied to the shortage of supply of affordable housing and declining income at the lower end of the income spectrum.

Many homeless individuals suffer from multiple barriers, including mental health issues and/or substance abuse. Senator Kirby's recent report shows that 86 per cent of homeless persons experience mental illness. This is two to three times the rate of the general population, yet few are diagnosed or receive adequate treatment due to lack of services and facilities.

In addition, family conflict and breakdown are leading causes, in particular for deepening youth homelessness. Several studies show that nearly two-thirds of youth who run away from home do so because of some form of sexual, physical or emotional abuse.

A range of social and economic factors contribute to multiple barriers and homelessness from marginalized populations, including persons with mental and physical disabilities, youth at risk, seniors, single parents, new immigrants and Aboriginal persons. The previous stereotype of the single, middle-aged man homeless on the street is an old stereotype. It is not only multi-faceted, it affects all aspects of our Canadian population.

Homelessness is not solely an urban issue, although you are studying it from a cities' perspective and it is a particularly intractable challenge in our cities. The cost and availability of housing contributes significantly to homelessness in our urban centres. There is a shortage of affordable rental housing in Canada. Overall vacancy rates across major housing markets in Canada are below 3 per cent, with many cities below 1 per cent.

However, I will speak about homelessness primarily as a social issue with very real economic causes. My colleague from CMHC will look at the more economic affordable housing aspects.

In 1999, due to growing pressures of evident increases in homelessness in our major cities, the federal government instituted for the first time a response, the National Homelessness Initiative, NHI. Its cornerstone program was the Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative, known as SCPI.

It was found that homelessness was not exclusive to cities, but was also evident in small communities across Canada and in the North. SCPI adopted a community-based approach, bringing together a range of partners at the local level to respond to homelessness. From 1999 to 2007, the NHI put in place a solid infrastructure of support in 61 communities across Canada.

At the beginning, we thought it might be an issue that was located in eight to 10 major centres. The fact that 61 communities applied for funding tells you it is a pervasive issue. It is an issue about migration, and also one that affects people all the way up from children, youth and families to seniors.

During the time of the NHI, new shelters were built and referrals to social services put in place. Over time, emphasis moved from capacity building and awareness to concrete measures and tangible results. The NHI's scheduled sunset on March 31, 2007 provided the opportunity to review the homelessness situation in Canada to assess what had worked in the federal response and to move forward with an approach that would address ongoing gaps and challenges. The result is a new Homelessness Partnering Strategy that just commenced April 1, 2007.

I will say a few words about this strategy, which is referred to as the HPS. It focuses on partnerships and structures and moves toward longer-term solutions such as transitional and supportive housing for particular populations needing our help. The emphasis is on moving those populations to greater autonomy and self-sufficiency.

Under the new HPS, we differentiate between the homeless populations — between the chronic homeless, those needing ongoing support, access to shelter and social services, and the situational homeless, those who have experienced a recent downturn such as a job loss or family breakdown and, with the right intervention, can quickly move out of homelessness and back into quality of life and self-sufficiency.

The goal is to find lasting and meaningful solutions to preventing and reducing homelessness by investing in shelter and related support and longer-term transitional and supportive housing. The HPS provides greater access to support networks appropriate to the individual needs of homeless people, such as skills training and health and substance abuse treatment, to help them attain self-sufficiency and full participation in Canadian society.

In addition, the HPS encourages federal departments to work more closely together in areas linked to homelessness, such as corrections, crime prevention, mental health, family violence, skills development and immigration.

Lastly, the HPS provides a new opportunity to strengthen our bilateral partnerships with provinces and territories. This is aimed at better alignment of investments, joint strategic planning, and improved linkages between shelter and social services that will strengthen and bolster the community-based efforts.

The new strategy provides for enhancing partnerships, recognizing that no one level of government, no one institution can tackle this problem alone. It requires a concerted effort from the federal government, provinces and territories, all stakeholders, non-governmental organizations and service providers to improve outcomes for homeless persons.

As with my colleagues, I would be pleased to take any questions you may have.

Sharon Matthews, Vice-President, Assisted Housing, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation: I am pleased to speak with you this morning. As Canada's housing agency, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is engaged in a wide variety of activities aimed at helping Canadians better meet their housing needs.

CMHC mortgage loan insurance facilitates access to low-cost mortgage financing for hundreds of thousands of homeowners and rental owners every year. CMHC also helps Canadians in need gain access to safe, affordable housing. Our research encourages innovation and our information products help people make more informed decisions.

As a starting point, I would like to give you a high-level picture of the housing market in Canada, and perhaps a profile of housing need. Following that, I will provide a brief overview of what the federal government, through CMHC, is doing to help Canadians meet their housing needs.

First, let us consider the Canadian housing market. Sellers' market conditions have prevailed across most of Canada in recent years. As a result, growth in the average MLS, multiple listing service, price has been more than 9 per cent annually since 2002.

This strong growth is rooted in solid fundamentals and does not, in CMHC's opinion, reflect an inflating house price bubble. This is because the price increases have been supported by sound economies, higher consumer confidence, personal income growth and low unemployment. This rate of increase in the average MLS price is projected to moderate in the coming years, as existing home markets move toward more balanced conditions.

Turning to the rental market, the average rental apartment vacancy rate in Canada's 28 major centres has remained virtually unchanged at 2.6 per cent in 2006 compared to 2005. Looking ahead, the national average vacancy rate is expected to remain essentially unchanged.

Favourable employment conditions, high levels of immigration and the increasing gap between the cost of renting and owning should lead to continued pressures that, in and of themselves, would lead to moderate tightening of vacancy rates. However, these factors are mitigated by the fact that many renter households are expected to continue to be drawn into the home ownership market, so it should balance out.

Underneath these national figures are some widely varying regional market conditions. I will use a couple of examples.

In Calgary, record high demand for housing last year caused the average MLS price to rise at an unprecedented rate of 38 per cent. This growth is expected to moderate over the next couple of years. Calgary's average vacancy rate is their lowest on record at 0.5 per cent, and it is expected to stay below 1 per cent due to the substantial inflow of people seeking job opportunities.

Toronto tells a bit of a different story with sale prices increasing at a more moderate rate of 4.8 per cent in 2006. The current vacancy rate there is 3.2 per cent, so it is quite a different picture when you look at the two markets.

Turning to the issue of overall housing need in Canada, according to the 2001 census data — we do not have the numbers from the new census — the vast majority of Canadians remain well housed. In fact, the marketplace meets the housing needs of more than 80 per cent of the Canadian population. That said, almost 1.5 million Canadian households remain in core housing need. This represents 13.5 per cent of households.

By way of explanation, I should mention that CMHC uses ``core housing need'' as the measure of need for housing in this country. Simply put, this measure takes into account a number of housing standards — the adequacy of the condition of the home, suitability of the size for the occupants and affordability.

As with the market conditions I outlined a moment ago, core housing need is an indicator that also varies significantly from region to region and group to group. For example, in Toronto, more than two in five recent immigrant households are in need. In Regina, almost one in three Aboriginal households is in core housing need.

Housing need is more of an issue in urban areas. While just over 80 per cent of all Canadian households are urban, they make up almost 88 per cent of the households in need. Canada's largest three cities contain 33 per cent of all of Canada's households, but 41 per cent of all households in need. Not surprisingly, single parents make up a disproportionately large percentage of household in need. The same can be said for Aboriginal households, elderly women and recent immigrants.

To assist the committee in its deliberations, I brought copies today of CMHC's Canadian Housing Observer, our annual publication that presents a detailed annual review of housing conditions and trends in Canada and some key factors behind them. Much of the data I have spoken to this morning is outlined in this publication, but there may be some possibility of CMHC slicing and dicing different data to meet your more specific needs. It is a matter of letting us know what you might need and we will see what we can do.

I would like to conclude my remarks by outlining initiatives the Government of Canada is taking to assist Canadians with housing needs. Again, this is to keep giving you a high-level overview of what is going on.

The Government of Canada has confirmed the availability of $1.4 billion in federal funding for three provincial- territorial housing trusts to address pressures with regard to the supply of affordable housing. This includes an affordable housing trust of $800 million, a Northern housing trust of $300 million, and a trust for off-reserve Aboriginal housing of $300 million.

Funding for these housing trusts are being allocated. Provinces and territories are responsible for allocating these funds within their jurisdictions.

The federal government also continues to support some 630,000 existing social housing units in Canada. We are spending $1.7 billion in this regard annually.

The Government of Canada, through CMHC, has also signed affordable housing program agreements with all provinces and territories. Under the AHI, Affordable Housing Initiative, the federal government is investing $1 billion, which is expected to create some 44,000 affordable housing units. The provinces are matching those dollars. Under the terms of the initiative, provinces and territories are primarily responsible for housing program design, allocations and program delivery.

In fact, in most provinces and in the North, the funding CMHC receives for housing is administered by provinces and territories. This offers an efficient one-window approach to the provision of housing assistance. We think it is a much better approach for the consumer, the Canadian, in terms of accessing and getting support.

To maintain the existing affordable housing stock, the Government of Canada, through CMHC, also offers a number of housing renovation programs. I am sure all of you have heard of the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program, RRAP, which is intended to repair and adapt housing occupied by low-income households. In December 2006, the Government of Canada announced a two-year $256-million extension of funding for renovation programs for low-income Canadians.

The Government of Canada also spends $260 million a year in support of First Nations housing. Last week, the government announced a new $300-million First Nations market housing fund to facilitate access to private-sector financing on reserve.

In addition, CMHC's mortgage loan insurance helps Canadians access homeownership through a variety of mortgage insurance products. As well, CMHC has allowed flexibility in both our home ownership and rental underwriting criteria to further facilitate financing for affordable housing projects across Canada by allowing borrowers to have access to higher loan amounts at the best possible interest rate. Affordable housing projects may also be eligible for reduced mortgage loan insurance premiums and other flexibilities in accordance with the level of the project's affordability. For example, an AHI project would not pay any mortgage insurance premium.

Since 1991, CMHC's partnership centre has worked with clients from the non-profit and private sectors, as well as municipalities and others who are interested in producing affordable housing without significant ongoing government subsidy. Assisting clients in a variety of ways by drawing on the full range of CMHC products, services, and programs, the centre has facilitated more than 40,000 housing units since it was initiated. In 2006 alone, the centre played a role in the creation of more than 3,400 homes across Canada.

Through our seed funding and interest-free proposal development funding, PDF, loans, CMHC offers financial assistance to help cover some of the upfront costs incurred during the development of a housing project proposal.

A good example of partnership in action to address the need for affordable housing is the Bharat Bhavan Senior Hostels in Montreal. This project received seed funding from CMHC as well as PDF. Combined with the investment and partnership of the community organization, they are basically providing the land and making this happen; 29 new affordable homes will soon be available to seniors in Montreal.

To conclude, in line with what Ms. Kolk was saying, we at CMHC understand that building communities takes the efforts of many to achieve success. It takes partnerships with all levels of government, the private sector, the public sector, and you just do not do it alone. Not one institution can do it. That is why we continue to work to increase the range of housing options available to Canadians and are always looking for new partnerships and opportunities.

As Ms. Kolk and Mr. Treusch said, we are open to any questions you may have.

The Chairman: Thank you to all three of you for your opening presentations.

Mr. Treusch, you talked about child poverty rates, saying that they have dropped from 18.6 per cent to 12.8 per cent. If you go back to 1989, when the House of Commons adopted the resolution that it was going to eliminate child poverty by 2000, I believe the number was higher then than it is today. I am not sure; you might clarify that. It certainly was not eliminated by the year 2000.

Where did we get off track and how do we get back on track to do that? What kind of programs would help to eliminate child poverty and what is a reasonable time frame? Even though it was passed unanimously in 1989, it obviously was not accomplished and we still have a high percentage of child poverty in Canada.

I would like to ask Ms. Kolk if there are any substantive differences between the previous and current government programs with respect to dealing with homelessness. There are obviously new titles, new acronyms, but are there any substantial differences in the program? There is information you gain from the first series of programs that helps make things better for the second, but are there any substantial differences that we should be aware of? What is the level of consultation at the local level, the involvement of the cities, in helping to determine these programs for homelessness?

Ms. Matthews, with respect to all of these lovely programs that CMHC has developed over the years, there still is an enormous problem concerning affordability in housing. As I think Ms. Kolk pointed out, a large percentage of people are paying above 50 per cent of their income or more. That is far above the CMHC guidelines, as I recall. I believe one should be paying about 30 per cent for their accommodation.

In Toronto, we have close to 70,000 households on waiting lists for affordable housing. The rate in which we are housing them means that a lot of people will wait maybe five, seven, 10 years, which is unacceptable.

How do we speed this up? These programs are fine, but how do we speed them up and make a big dent? What kind of a program and timetable would help us do that?

Mr. Treusch: I have child poverty rates with me, a series beginning in 1996 and ending in the year 2000. I do not have them back to the year of the motion.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks, you see a constant reduction in child poverty rates between 1999 and 2001, which was the low point of 12.1 per cent. Then you see the uptrend between that time and 2004.

There are stark differences in those rates across provinces, so that is the first thing I would draw the committee's attention to. Three provinces experienced quite an increase in child poverty rates in that three-year period — Ontario, British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador. For all the other provinces, even over that period, child poverty rates continued their steady decline.

It is the population of Ontario, because of its large demographic weight, that has influenced the overall results and been the key driver. In other words, if you were to remove Ontario from the aggregate, you would have seen a continuing decrease in the rates.

The explanation is economic and family and demographic factors, which really is my answer broadly to your question. Child poverty rates are obviously influenced by government expenditures and programs but they depend fundamentally upon the labour market and economic prospects of the country and on family formation and composition. Some of these have been positive and some less so over this long period of time. The economic developments in Ontario in that period did have an influence on the overall rate.

In terms of what this means and for government policy going forward, you have seen continued investment in family and children programming, as well as in labour markets to support skills and learning. Labour market attachment is the main factor determining the prospects of households and, therefore, child poverty.

In closing, I would draw attention to the working income tax benefit, which is an important part of the policy suite the government can bring to supporting the working poor, an aspect of poverty that is most troubling.

The Chairman: It is hard to understand that in the context of the great amount of economic growth we have had over the last decade or so.

Ms. Kolk: With respect to the substantial differences between the National Homelessness Initiative and the new Homelessness Partnering Strategy, I would say that we now have a natural evolution. We invested in building the infrastructure and the relationship with 61 communities and the decision was taken to retain the community-based focus. I will highlight substantial differences in three areas. Again, we feel there is a natural evolution that any government would have embraced.

The first one is eligible activities. At the beginning of the National Homelessness Initiative, there had been no programming at the federal or national level and so investment was in building community capacity and awareness of the issue. Projects were submitted for coordinators to do that work, for training, teaching service providers and so on.

Over time, we felt that had been established and done. Eligible activities had been approved. We have moved significantly to investing in capital projects with concrete results — new shelters, transitional and supportive housing. Transitional is housing for people who will eventually move into mainstream. Supportive housing is for the disabled who need a longer-term place to live with the correct types of support.

At the beginning, there were few capital projects. Now, that first area is significantly what we fund across the country.

The second substantial difference is a new offer of partnering to provinces and territories. At the beginning of the NHI in 1999, the federal government said to all jurisdictions: ``We would like to come into your communities with your concurrence.'' All provinces and territories concurred and Quebec said: ``Yes, but we would like a formal bilateral partnership,'' which we have had with the Province of Quebec since 1999. It has been durable and effective. We are using the model of the Canada-Quebec entente to talk to all other provinces and territories to say, ``We still would like to fund your communities, but we want a partnership with you''.

I have been travelling across the country since January talking to each province and territory. I have now been to seven, looking at the potential for a bilateral partnership that would do a few things, chiefly to get the province more into strategic planning to ensure operational sustainability, aligning our investments where the provinces and we invest. How can we avoid duplication? Make sure we are aligned well.

The really important area is provinces having the jurisdiction and responsibility for many of the social services. How can we help communities know where the referrals are, where the help is in the area of health, social assistance, employment counselling and so on? The responses from the provinces and territories have been good and hopefully we can move to formalized agreements with them and have some memoranda of understanding that will have a real effect at the local level.

The third area of substantial difference is it is multi-faceted from the outset. We have talked about the importance of horizontality. Now we have put a small amount of money towards horizontal pilot projects with other key federal departments. We got the authority to do so. We are beginning. We are having excellent talks with Corrections Canada about better discharge planning. We are talking with the Department of Justice about the use of their drug courts to help the homeless in a quick and effective way. We are talking with Citizenship and Immigration Canada about better settlement that gives financial literacy and understanding of the housing market to new immigrants. We have put the onus on ourselves to report back to cabinet on these aspects of provincial-territorial partnerships and horizontality. Those are the key highlights of substantial difference.

The second part of your question is about consultations. Our consultations began in 2005 under a previous government. We travelled across the country to 10 communities and held five expert tables which touched on all service providers, national associations, and other levels of government to get the input into what should be a future direction on homelessness. We wrote a report, disseminated it on a website and then the government changed. We want to touch base again to get the pulse of stakeholders in the context of the new government. We held a stakeholder round table last September to say we are moving forward. The National Homelessness Initiative was to sunset March 31. What should the new strategy look like? It is safe to say that our strategy with the emphasis on horizontality and provincial- territorial engagement does reflect what we heard from stakeholders, and also their desire that we reaffirm the community-based infrastructure of the response to homelessness.

Lastly, on consultations, it does not stop with getting the authority. Yesterday, I was in Toronto at the invitation of the province. It was encouraging to meet the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, AMO. The main focus was what do the municipalities want from the federal and provincial governments as enhanced collaboration?

We also got input on longer-term vision, longer-term funding and reducing administrative burden. We take all these on an ongoing basis.

Because we have a community-based program and a national program regionally delivered, we are fortunate to have our roots deep in communities and able to get the information needed and reality based. Quite deliberately, our new title is not initiative, not program, but strategy, to continue strategizing with all partners about what are the best solutions.

The Chairman: Does that include municipal government as well? You mentioned AMO in the Ontario context but, generally, municipal governments are part of your stakeholder list that you do the consultations with.

Ms. Kolk: Yes, they are. It varies across the country. It happens in Ontario that municipal governments are more featured as a partner than in some other jurisdictions.

Ms. Matthews: How do we do more and better? I think the first part of answering that question would come down to understanding where the core housing need is.

I said in my opening comments that 13.7 per cent of Canadians are in core housing need. Of that, 9.9 per cent have only an affordability problem. Suitability and adequacy and some combination of those would make up the rest. If you look at income as a key, obvious driver to housing need, and therefore some of Mr. Treusch's comments in terms of economic development skills and learning, those are critical in addressing some of the housing issues.

In addition, I would say the programs we have on the ground today are very good. They work well. However, there are areas in terms of moving forward with partnerships where you are seeing a lot of work that CMHC is doing with our centre for private-public partnerships. There are many examples about bringing in other players. I do not think any one level of government can address the issues and the challenges. That type of work where you are bringing in private and non-profit sectors, other levels of government and the full community makes a difference.

I can use an example of the Old North End community in Saint John, New Brunswick. A few years ago, CMHC facilitated a five-day planning session with the community and other levels of government and all the different players, including police. They came out with a list of 178 specific projects of what they wanted to do. This is a community that has 80 per cent rental rates and a large problem with absentee landlords. We are hopeful in the next few months that we will see a pilot program on home ownership. These are the types of things that came out of bringing those players together. When they start talking at a community level, the difference that can be made is amazing.

Another example of how to bring in other players would be the announcement the government just made last week in terms of this new on-reserve market fund. Aboriginal Canadians, particularly on reserve, have a significant housing need in this country. That fund is $300 million but it is all about leveraging the private sector, finding a way for Aboriginal Canadians living on reserve to have access to home ownership and equity like any other Canadian. The hope through this fund is that you will see a good chunk of financial dollars flowing through from the private sector on reserve. This fund will be a credit enhancer behind the scenes. Rather than the government building houses one unit at a time, allowing and creating and facilitating a market should make a significant difference. An investment of $300 million should be able to be leveraged out to significant numbers of homes. If you were going to take $300 million and just build the houses, you would not get anywhere near the same leverage.

The Chairman: I have supplementary questions but I will leave them and allow my colleagues to ask their questions first.

Senator Munson: I have been thinking a bit about small cities and big cities. I have been in enough of them across the country. As you come in from the airport or drive in or come in on the train, you always see a section of a city or town where it is automatic that someone will say, ``There it is, low-income housing.'' It is sort of ghettoized. I am wondering, in terms of philosophy, as governments and organizations, is it the intention when we build or help build these homes to almost stigmatize people and put them in these areas? You say, ``There are the rich people over there. Look over there. Those ones look nice for now, but they will not last long.'' It breaks your heart when you see that kind of environment in this country. While there may be honourable intentions and the money may be well spent, you still see that part of society which seems to be on the outside looking in. I wonder if Ms. Matthews could address that issue.

Ms. Matthews: We do a lot of housing research, and the research shows mixed use is often a better fit within the community. I think you will find that, as you do more of these partnerships, you get the community involved on the ground level. It is not a building just coming in and they do not have a say. As you talk in terms of the community, the type of solutions they are coming up with are very much mixed use.

There is a new project coming up in Brampton, as an example, which is absolutely mixed use. They are using the AHI funds and money and land from the city and others. I think you will find in terms of the issue of NIMBY, Not In My Back Yard, as well, when people are trying to build homes, do affordable housing, that local consultation with the community on the ground will make the difference.

You are also seeing places like Regent Park in Toronto. That would be a perfect example. It was stigmatized. It is the largest public housing complex in the country and is in the process of a massive redevelopment. It will be about $561 million, 12 phases over the next number of years. Again, their plan is very much mixed use. There will be home ownership, assisted social housing, and all sorts. Again, the community has been in right from the ground floor in terms of the consultations.

Senator Munson: You feel the landscape will be changing as time goes on with mixed use?

Ms. Matthews: That would be my sense of it. As we move more and more to these partnerships and bring everyone to the table, that is certainly the type of examples I am seeing out there.

The Chairman: Unfortunately, Senator Keon has to leave shortly. Could we get a question in from him at this point in time?

Senator Keon: My question is for all three of you, but particularly Ms. Kolk. I have been advocating for some time in everything I have been involved in relating to health care that we have to undergo a major shift to community resources. I believe that we cannot address at least the health services sector in Canada, and indeed the health of Canadians in the broader context, until we organize health at the community level. The big problem with that is trying to define ``community,'' downtown Toronto as opposed to a small community in the North as opposed to an Aboriginal community. How are you doing it, Ms. Kolk? Perhaps Ms. Matthews and Mr. Treusch can join in.

Ms. Kolk: In our case, as I said, we are in partnership with 61 communities. We are also in partnership with a great number of Aboriginal communities. It was developed bottom up. We went to provinces and said, ``We want to be in your communities.'' We talked to municipalities and groups within communities. We went to, for example, Brampton, Ontario, and said, ``We need you to mobilize your right partners and form a community entity.'' When that was done, they then submitted who they were, why they were a community entity and how they would then fulfill the requirements of developing a plan and projects that would be approved by us. We went out there and let it grow, to identify themselves as communities.

In the Province of Ontario, often it was the municipality that took control and said, ``We are the community entity.'' That was not the case in other parts of Canada. It could be a new organization. For example, in Calgary, the Calgary Homeless Foundation predated our initiative, and they were ready to mobilize and say, ``We are your community entity.'' It was not the City of Calgary. It is an amalgamation of private-sector people, service providers and local and provincial government that said, ``We are the Calgary Homeless Foundation.''

With Aboriginal groups, we have links to urban Aboriginal organizations.

They are not the major national Aboriginal organizations, but they are representative of all Aboriginal groups. That was a lens through which to see who was the community representing the Aboriginal group, whether it fairly represented the Aboriginal population of that particular centre, and to do a bit of intelligence gathering and see that their statement of being a community entity for the purpose of the Aboriginal funding was appropriate and that they had the capacity to then be able to mobilize, make a plan and develop projects.

We were respectful of those groups that came forward, but we also set criteria for approval as a community entity that could fulfil the requirements of doing the job.

Senator Keon: Could you share those criteria with the committee?

Ms. Kolk: Yes.

Mr. Treusch: If I could add a couple of observations which might be of benefit to the senator. As Senator Keon knows, low income is a reliable predictor of health incomes. I am sure you have that in mind. We know low-income people tend to be in poorer health, are sick more often and have shorter life expectancies, and that infant mortality rates are associated with low income.

Second, just an observation that the word ``community'' is a broad word. One way to think about it is to look at groups that are overrepresented in the low-income category — persons with disabilities, recent immigrants, unattached individuals between ages 45 and 64, lone female parents and off-reserve Aboriginals. Those are five groups. They represent about a quarter of our population and about two-thirds of the persistent poor. A targeted strategy with respect to low income would presumably be aimed at addressing at least those groups.

Ms. Matthews: I would add that, in terms of the type of partnerships we do, we find that the communities define themselves. It could be an ethnic group or a particular area. They have come together and we often facilitate that. We have what we call ``charrettes'' to bring people together to see where there are common interests and where we can move forward. We do not tend to define it per se. We see what comes our way and how we can facilitate connecting others.

Senator Keon: I thank all of you very much.

Senator Munson: Since I have been in the Senate, I have focused on people with disabilities. It is an important issue when it comes to cities and the report that we will present later.

Here is a quote from the Prince Edward Island Council of the Disabled:

Today, contrary to the claims of modest success by social and legislative forces, the majority of Canada's disabled citizens continue to live in communities in which housing, unless specifically remodelled, does not allow for independent living, and in which buildings intended for public use, outdoor places and public transportation, pose serious restrictions due to lack of accessibility.

Overall, with the programs, are we doing enough to help seniors and those with disabilities? Can you give me some examples of how these programs work in cities, whether the houses being remodelled and put together are close to transit routes and so on? We talk the good talk but do we do enough?

Ms. Matthews: We have a number of programs designed to help the disabled or seniors. We have an adaptations program for seniors which would allow them to put, for example, a grab bar in their home. This is intended to allow them to remain in the home longer. An assessment would be done to determine the types of things that might be needed to make that happen.

The larger program would be the rehabilitation program. There is a component designated for the disabled. Whether it is homeowner or rental, there is federal assistance available to retrofit the existing housing and facilitate the needs of the disabled.

Senator Munson: When we use the term ``disabled,'' at what level of disability does a person feel that he or she can have access to these programs? For different people, the disability could be at different levels. How does one know where to go and what to do in the labyrinthine and complex world of government?

Ms. Matthews: We have call centres at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and a good website in terms of getting information. I can provide to the committee some of the definitions. I do not have them with me today. There are ways to disseminate that information. We also work with our provincial colleagues and others to ensure we are getting information out. We have research publications. Again, I can provide to the committee a list of the types of things that a senior might want to consider to make it more comfortable to continue living in their home, and other such publications that are intended to help people make assessments and to know where to go to get help.

Senator Munson: Does this apply to intellectual disabilities as well as physical disabilities?

Ms. Matthews: Again, I do not have the detailed specifics on the criteria of the renovation programs. I can provide that to the committee. Largely, the renovation programs are intended to change the physicality, but if there was a physical need, depending on the disability, I am sure we would look at it.

Mr. Treusch: If I could augment that, senator and Mr. Chairman, with a few remarks.

With respect to the provision of access to groups that have particular needs — and persons with disabilities is a striking example — the Service Canada initiative associated with our department focuses on clients, their different needs and ways of delivering to communities, and our network of service providers are doing so.

In terms of broader ranges of programs, there are some $7.5 billion, the largest of which would be the disability benefit associated with the Canada Pension Plan income support program. There is a $220-million labour market agreement for persons with disabilities that is attempting to support the skill levels of persons with disabilities, and of course the $35-million child disability benefit is particularly aimed at this group.

The two most recent things I would draw your attention to are the budget proposal for the working income tax benefit, which has a particular feature aimed at persons with disabilities, as well as the reference to a disability savings plan following the group of an expert panel, which would be using an asset approach to support children with disabilities.


Senator Pépin: I think there are some sensational programs out there. The government is investing a lot more money. With all that money being spent and all those programs in place, how is it that there are still so many homeless? How much time — how many months and years — do you think it will take for that money to have a real impact and result in fewer homeless people, whether they be people suffering from mental illness or others? With all that money being spent, do you think there is an issue in terms of program delivery or coordination?

In spite of those investments, I am stunned to see the number of people on the street who are not benefiting from that funding. Based on your own experience, the private sector will be in a position to get involved in some provinces and territories. Is that enough? And will you be able to coordinate all of those efforts so that we start seeing a difference in two or three years?

Mr. Treusch: Is your concern primarily with programs for the homeless?

Senator Pépin: Yes.

Ms. Kolk: How can we ensure that there is appropriate coordination in terms of funding from the federal government and through other partnerships? Well, I can tell you that we have had great success in making that connection.


For every federal investment dollar we have leveraged 1.7 in partnering dollars. When we fund a project in a community, that community has to find other sources of funding for the project. Only in the Aboriginal partnerships have we been softer on that point because it has been more difficult for them to find the partners. By insisting that private-sector, non-governmental organizations also contribute to the projects, we have fostered the philosophy that this is not one area of unilateral responsibility. It is a shared responsibility of everyone.

The coordination of the financial responsibility also brings the other necessary aspects to the table of social services, health services, mentoring employment, and various aspects. The ideal world would have much more private sector investment, and not only in finances. If I might cite a recent learning from the United Kingdom, they have a system there called ``Business in the Community'' where large companies such as the Hongkong Bank and Marks and Spencer are actually winning awards not only for the funding but also for the hiring of homeless people. We want to talk about that more with key business sector partners. This is something I believe in. Many homeless persons should be there short term. They are people; they have potential at all levels. If we could interest some of our major banks or private sector people, we could get not only their financial involvement but also their mentoring and employment, internships and apprenticeship possibilities.


Senator Pépin: That would be absolutely wonderful. I would like to have a little more information about housing for seniors. What are the requirements to be considered eligible under the program for seniors? Is it currently accessible in all the provinces? Are the provinces and the federal government cooperating in that area? Since there is not much of that, it may be more difficult for seniors to access the program.


Ms. Matthews: The renovation and adaptations programs are available across the country. Have you heard a theme from us today in terms of leveraging other funds, whether it is the private sector or the province? With our renovation programs, we require a 25 per cent cost-sharing with our provincial partners when they deliver. There are a couple of provinces that have chosen not to participate, in which case we direct the lever and do not have cost-sharing, but the programs are available right across the country.

Senator Pépin: What are the requirements for a family or a couple or a person who wants to go and live in that housing?

Ms. Matthews: There are eligibility requirements for the suite of renovation programs, the adaptations program, the RRAP program, and there are a couple of categories we look at. If it is a homeowner, for example, doing adaptations or renovations for the disabled or whatnot, we look at the value of the house. There is a threshold limit beyond which you would not be eligible for the program. In addition, there is eligibility. It is based on our core need income thresholds — that measurement of need based on your income — and it is in the market you are in and you should be able to find housing to get out of core need. With the income that you have, you would not be eligible for the program.


Senator Pépin: Condos are currently very popular with seniors. Do you build that type of housing for low-income seniors? Do your plans include any such project?


Ms. Matthews: We have existing social housing. There are about 630,000 units across the country, most of them administered by the provinces, which is one way to approach it.

In terms of new construction or development, the $1-billion affordable housing initiative that the federal government introduced is 50/50 cost-shared right across the country so that has been nicely leveraged. Under that initiative, the provinces are accountable in terms of designing and setting up the programs. Much of that money is being spent on various seniors' projects. The provinces, with CMHC in terms of our research and other expertise, are at the table and working with the community to develop what is the need and what are the opportunities.

Senator Nancy Ruth: My questions have been answered in part but Ms. Matthews, in the household and need categories, you refer to the two in five recent immigrants in Toronto, the one in three Aboriginals in Regina, women with children, and elderly women. These were all your key sectors in those places. Is there definitely preferential housing for these groups?

Ms. Matthews: I am not sure what you mean.

Senator Nancy Ruth: Do these people get the first access to housing? Is it deemed for them?

Ms. Matthews: Sometimes, sometimes not. Any new construction right now is done under the affordable housing initiative. That is something which, for efficiency and everything else, our provincial partners are designing and often there are community groups involved as I said. No one is doing this by themselves. The community is coming together and working together. Sometimes you will find it is an ethnic group that has come forward and looked for funding and built a seniors' complex or things for various client types. Other times it is just general affordable housing. It really depends on the community's specific needs, which group, what non-profit, and who came forward and got access to the funding.

Senator Nancy Ruth: These groups are not organized so that they can access the money. What happens if someone insists they be organized so they can get it?

Ms. Matthews: Each of the provinces has waiting lists and criteria to get in. I could not speak to each jurisdiction, but I believe they are relatively fair systems. It is not about, if your particular ethnic group or situation did not go and get a housing project, you are not going to get housing. Remember there are also 630,000 of existing units right across the country under various programs. Some are coop; some are urban native. It really depends. It is hard to speak in generalities. Every community is different.

Senator Nancy Ruth: Do you work with municipalities in terms of their building codes so that new housing stock that is being built is easy to convert into housing for the disabled, such as the wiring being set back five inches in case a standard door has to be cut to a wheelchair door, or that all doors are 39 inches instead of 33 and so on? These are easy things to do when you are building and difficult to do when you must change them.

Ms. Matthews: We do not set building codes.

Senator Nancy Ruth: I understand that, but do you work with municipalities to encourage them to do this?

Ms. Matthews: Absolutely. We have research on healthy housing. Our new equilibrium initiative is 12 demonstration houses being built across the country, intended to be very healthy housing as well as energy efficient. We have research that suggests what renovations a senior could do. The research suggests what you should be thinking about when you are building new, such as building the countertops lower for wheelchair access and making sure the doors are wide enough.

Senator Nancy Ruth: Put light switches at wrist level.

Ms. Matthews: Exactly. All that information is very good.

Senator Nancy Ruth: It is not about information; it is about teaching developers how to do it. I used to be in the housing business as a developer of residential subdivisions. My object was to make money, not to build houses that were accessible for people. If you do not put it in the codes and the law, writing pamphlets will not do it.

Ms. Matthews: Obviously, we do not have the jurisdiction to force it. We make sure the information is available.

Senator Nancy Ruth: You make it available to the municipality.

Ms. Matthews: I believe so.

Senator Nancy Ruth: It is up to the individual who is building the house. It has to be in the code.

Ms. Matthews: We would share it across the board, whether it is municipally, provincially or any level across the board.

Senator Nancy Ruth: You say the 150,000 homeless people are no longer the older white man, and Mr. Treusch gave some statistics. Can I assume in terms of race, poverty and gender, they are the same groupings when you talk about who these 150,000 people are?

Ms. Kolk: It has been very difficult to calculate the number of homeless because they are people who are often hidden. They do not come forward during census counts. For various reasons, they fall through the cracks.

In the last several years we have developed an information database called HIFIS, the Homeless Individuals and Families Information System. We have been able to put this database in shelters across the country and have begun to collect more data, which helps us get a calculation.

Senator Nancy Ruth: This is data on age and race?

Ms. Kolk: It is not only numbers but knowing who they are and, therefore, how they should be served. At the same time, individual cities have taken on themselves to do night homeless counts, maybe twice a year, and then we get a picture from that as well.

We think there are roughly 150,000 homeless persons in Canada. I have seen some studies put the figure as high as 250,000. As I mentioned, this is the number we can count, but there are those who are in temporary accommodation with friends, relatives or wherever they can be. They are homeless and do not have a permanent address. It is hard to calculate, but it has been an important feature of our involvement that we have the numbers and the knowledge of segmenting the population and, therefore, of differentiating the kinds of responses and getting the appropriate interventions with the different needs.

What are the responses appropriate to disabled persons? What are the needs of homeless youth as opposed to seniors? They are quite different. We are getting a better handle on it. HIFIS has been part of our renewal as of April 1. I have a group that links the HIFIS information to our ongoing research and analysis.

Mr. Treusch: Ms. Kolk has been addressing the characteristics of the homeless and I was speaking broadly about low-income households. There is obviously a great deal of coincidence between the two, with the homeless being a subset, but it would not be exact. There would be some socio-economic characteristics that would be associated with the homeless other than low income. I am just thinking out loud here. There would be, for example, some households that would be very income poor but housing wealthy. It does happen. You sometimes find that with the elderly widow. She is sitting there with the housing asset but she is in very restricted income circumstances.

Senator Nancy Ruth: I want to ask a question about these partnerships, the ones yet to be dreamed up from Marks and Spencer and what exists now. I am asking the question because the YWCA of Toronto has come knocking at my door within the last year for a new housing enterprise they want to build in downtown Toronto for Aboriginal women, single mothers and elderly women. The sum they were looking for was the kind of thing that certainly belongs in the corporate sector, not in the individual philanthropy sector. I was quite shocked they came to my door for those sums.

Is this what you mean by partnerships? If you are working with any kind of community group, an association of Greeks or whoever it is, you are talking about private philanthropy as opposed to corporate energies. What is going on and what do you hope to build this sector into in these partnerships?

Ms. Matthews: For us, it is very different. I spoke of the Old North End example. Those are small numbers in terms of the dollars being spent. The first pilot project they are trying to get for home ownership is four units.

I will give you another example. For a project in Brampton, John Street housing, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's funding through the AHI was $3.55 million. The province came in with $400,000. Tax savings added up to about $713,000. The city development charge waiver was almost a million dollars. There were contributions from the Rotary Club and charities to give you an example of others who came in, for the amount of $2.1 million. This is a 16-storey building with 200 units for low-income seniors, singles and people living with disabilities, among other markets. The mortgage there will be $21 million. You can appreciate the range of partnerships that we would see.

Senator Cook: Let me say at the outset I am trying to understand the very complex situation. You people are the experts. I hope you will bear with my questions.

I am from Newfoundland. I am looking at your statistics. Low-income rates vary across Canada. They range here from 6 per cent to 14 per cent, yet the unemployment rate in the nation is 6.1 per cent. I would ask you to help me understand that one, because I go to page three and read the federal government role where it states that the government is supporting and sustaining a vibrant economy.

I would beg to differ based on what I have seen here. We are subsidizing. The subsidies that are here in those bullets are a dozen or more programs geared to low-income people; our dream is that no one in this country will be poor, that they will have adequate housing, food and the essentials of life.

I would like to throw in there the bit about child poverty. I do not understand it. To me, a child is part of a family unit. The family is poor. No child lives in isolation. One of the things we need to look at is the family unit rather than to be continually talking about child poverty.

I look at Calgary where many of my people go because, when you go West, you make a lot of money. In Calgary, the cost of housing is jumping 38 per cent and yet, in that same city, the low-income rate is 10 per cent. The picture I am seeing here across the spectrum is confusing. The question that begs itself to me is how much are we spending to administer the programs we are offering to Canadians?

How much of this really reaches the person we are looking at to eliminate the poverty? Ms. Kolk, I heard you say you were doing pilot projects in HRSDC within the spectrum. I have only known about pilot projects outside where you would partner with a community. I do not like pilot projects, because they often die rather than moving on.

Heart Health was a good pilot project. It was integrated and has become a part of who we are.

Ms. Matthews, I work a lot for not-for-profit and I hear from the administrators, ``Don't even go there. If I have to apply for this or that program, I will need another person to get through the red tape. There is too much paper and criteria, and when I look for a partner, the partner is not there.''

It is the most frustrating thing you can be involved in. There are a dozen or more wonderful programs here. Would it not be better if we had one pot?

Mr. Treusch: You raised a great many issues. I will try to do justice to them but also to be succinct.

With regard to Newfoundland and Labrador, I am trying to convey that the province's economic wealth is less than the Canadian average. Therefore, it is not surprising that the low-income rates for that province are somewhat above the national average. I consider that consistent.

As well, the province's labour market participation and unemployment rates are not as strong as the national average. All of those tell me a completely consistent story for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Senator Cook: Seasonal work is one of the factors in the equation.

Mr. Treusch: Yes, it is a factor in the equation.

Second, I believe you characterized various of these programs as subsidies. I covered a vast range of programs. I personally would not characterize them all as subsidies. There are many things there that are income transfers. A straightforward way of addressing poverty is through income transfers, so I agree with that.

I want to underscore the importance of underlying fundamentals and labour force attachment, and that relates to the first question the chairman addressed to me. If there is economic growth, and if economic growth is able to bring poor populations to the labour force and they are properly equipped with the necessary skills and attributes to participate, that will have a much greater effect on rates of low income than government programs. That is the explanation for why you saw a deterioration in circumstances following the 1989 all-party House of Commons resolution. We had a recession in the early 1990s which set us back for a considerable period of time.

With respect to child poverty, I think it is a difference of vocabulary but nothing of substance. A child is living in a family circumstance and it is really the poverty of the family that is being transmitted to the child. Child benefits are provided to the caregiver on behalf of the child. It is a difference in term, perhaps, but not otherwise.

I took your final point to be about whether these programs would be more effective if they were consolidated. In many areas, government programming is overly complex and there are things that we can and should be doing to simplify service delivery. I confess that there are issues there. However, by and large, many of these programs are designed to meet the particular needs of particular groups.

Persons with disabilities, Aboriginal Canadians, recent immigrants and lone-parent households share the challenge of poverty, which is a lack of income, but also other challenges where targeted programming is called for. With the scarce resources that governments have, it is best to ensure that these programs are tailored for the groups most in need.

There was a question about housing to which my colleagues may wish to speak.

Ms. Kolk: You mentioned pilot projects. It is about HRSDC working well with other federal departments, but it would roll out in a community. It is not something internal to government.

I understand your comment that you do not like pilot projects. We are trying to provide the impetus for something that can be more long-lasting in communities. We are demonstrating how HRSDC and Citizenship and Immigration Canada work together in a community in a pilot project sense to enhance the understanding of new immigrants about the housing market and how to get settled. We can proliferate the learning from that pilot project as a best practice so that across the country communities know better how to make this happen for new immigrants.

I believe there is a role for pilot projects. I understand your concern. It is not where I would place my emphasis either, but sometimes it is useful as a testing ground and a way to ignite a little fire about something we believe needs to be done.

Senator Cook: How much does it cost to administer a program? You have a pot of money to administer and you have chosen your program. How much is left for the client? Is it 50 per cent or 10 per cent? Do you have any figures on the cost of administering either of those projects I see here?

Ms. Kolk: A general rule of thumb in our department is that administration should be no more than 15 per cent. In homelessness projects, because of the volunteer sector being so engaged, it is often far lower than that.

Senator Cook: Does that apply to housing? I understand the complexity of partners in housing with CMHC, from governments to municipalities, but my passion is not-for-profit.

Ms. Matthews: I appreciate that, and I have some affiliation to that myself.

I will give you an example of the amount of money that goes to administration in the renovation programs. I do not have the number off the top of my head but I think it is about 12 per cent. Like other departments, we work hard to keep those numbers down. At the end of the day, it is about getting housing on the ground.

We can all appreciate as well your comment about one pot and too much paper. However, it is one of the major changes you will have seen in housing over the last number of years. We have signed a number of social housing agreements with provinces and territories. Almost 80 per cent of the federal programs are now administered by the provinces. The idea is to have one window. If you are a person in need, disabled or with a low income and looking for housing, there is one contact in Ontario. We are trying to make that easier as are all the different players in housing.

As to partners, whether it be public-private or private-private, we have all been there and know that partnerships are difficult. I will give an example of where there are successes. We have the Canadian Centre for Public-Private Partnerships in Housing. There are people located all across the country working in housing for CMHC a part of whose job is to do that networking.

I sat in on a discussion in Halifax last week. A group was looking to find a private sector developer who might be open to participating if they could get the municipality on side. The staff in the Halifax office said that they knew such a developer and could do the introductions. The whole conversation was about how to network and pull those people together. We facilitate it and bring them into our offices.

While finding partners is always difficult, we are facilitating it much better than we used to, and sometimes that difficult path makes for better partners because, by the time you get there, you know you are in it and that it is the right answer.

Senator Cook: Sometimes you have a dream, start on a path and go all over the place, then it becomes a nightmare and you have to say, ``No, we cannot do it.''

Ms. Matthews: Sometimes you do.

Senator Cook: I would like to say to you that, when you are designing those programs, look at the barriers so that we do not get our expectations up when we are trying to alleviate poverty or look after children or whatever, especially in the not-for-profit sector. I could tell you nightmare stories but also wonderful ones about Chevron giving $750,000.

Ms. Matthews: When they work, they are wonderful.

Senator Cook: They do. I do not mind pilots, as long as they are integrated and get a life of their own and then move on through society and we are all the better for it. That is my difficulty with pilots.

Senator Cordy: I would like to talk about the issue of poverty related specifically to seniors. I know that we have come a long way. In 1980, it was about 21 per cent of seniors who were in poverty and now it is 5.6 per cent. We should be happy to see that change.

However, when we look closer at the 5.6 per cent it causes some concern because we look at the fact that those who are single, whether it is men or women, are far more likely to be in a poverty situation than those who are living in a family situation or as a couple. We know that, on top of that, single women are twice as likely to be in a situation of poverty as a single man would be.

As a senior, if you have a private pension plan, you do not need a study to say these are people who are not likely to be in a poverty situation. However, when you look at single, senior women in 2007, many of them have had interruptions in the workplace. They may have not worked outside the home while their children were young, or they may have worked part time if they had children, or it may have been a family decision that they not work outside the home even if they had no children.

We also know that women tend to work in lower-paying jobs that do not have private pension plans. When they become seniors, they have access to old age security, OAS, and the guaranteed income supplement, GIS, but they are, in many cases, single women living in poverty.

What can we do about the people who are falling through the cracks? I know that you listed a number of excellent government programs, but if it is related to filing an income tax return there are a number of people who do not file an income tax return. There are a number of people who are not eligible for those programs because, in fact, they are not making enough money to pay income tax. A reduction in income tax for them is not beneficial because they are not paying anything anyway.

When we look at the statistic from 21 per cent to 5.6 per cent, it is positive, but when we look within we see specifically single senior women who are suffering in poverty.

Mr. Treusch: For the most part, I would agree or would validate the observations that Senator Cordy has made. First, the most significant progress that Canada has registered over the 20-plus years that the senator eludes to have been in the reduction of the seniors' rate. It is quite striking. It is significant. On an OECD basis, it puts Canada, if not the first, among the first. Of the areas of good and bad news that I was bringing to the attention of the committee, this surely would be among the most favourable. That being said, there are issues.

The second observation, because it is true of seniors but it is true generally, is about the role of the family and the family unit. If you have a household and there is a loss of income by an individual, then the family acts as a bit of an economic stabilizer to that. That is why you see some of those incidents that you do among unattached individuals. I agree that women who may have interruptions in their labour force attachment through their career, who tend to live longer than a male spouse and so are often spending some years alone can be left in some straits. That is where I would suggest what you already know, that the public aspects of our pension system are designed to address that. It is designed to put the kind of supports from government expenditure into those households. That is what the OAS and GIS are all about so that the individual who does not have access to private pension benefits is not unduly penalized from that.

In terms of what can we do, one can always improve the seniors' system and it is among the allocation choices that are made. Looking longer term, there are extraordinarily favourable and important developments in terms of female participation in higher education and in the professions. I think there will be a very different cohort of women that we now see moving through the education system where their participation is rapidly overcoming men.

The question will be whether some of the labour market remuneration will similarly adjust and close the gap that one would expect to see as women rapidly close the gap in education attainment. If that is the case, then as that cohort of women enters the retirement years, while the biological differences will remain and life expectancy, I would expect that other aspects of their income would be less different from what we have seen in the past.

Senator Cordy: It will be interesting to see what happens in 20 or 25 years or longer.

I would like to go back to something that Senator Cook raised. I remember being with her in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, at a home for the disabled and it was excellent. We talked to the woman who was in charge of the home about the frustration she had in filling out paperwork. She understood that everyone has a responsibility to be accountable for funding received, whether it is federal, provincial, or from private sources. However, it had reached the point where they had to look carefully at whether or not they even wanted to bother putting in the hours in filling out the forms. Did the end justify the means to get there?

When you heard that, you thought here was a situation that had been on the ground for a number of years and was recognized as being one of the best in the country. Is there not some kind of history that government departments could have on specific programs that are running to say: We do not need a 50-page document from you to take part in this new program that we have. Here is a two-pager because we have the history of the program you have been running.

Mr. Treusch: I will make a general remark. As I recall, the last time I was before a Senate committee in a different program area this also was a concern brought to our attention. I simply drew the committee's attention to developments over the past few years, of which senators are well aware, where concerns about the lack of vigorous scrutiny and controls over grants and contributions has drawn governments into a great deal of public controversy, and a number of more stringent, rigorous requirements have been introduced in rapid succession in the last few years with respect to grants and contributions.

Our department is no exception to that. We have controversy in our past about grants and contributions as well as about privacy. We respond to this by adding to the administrative burden that our recipients face and that we as administrators face as well. We are cognizant of the frustration this engenders in all concerned.

That gave rise to a blue-ribbon task force which was associated with the Treasury Board Secretariat. It has reported on ways to try to reduce this administrative burden. We are participants in that exercise and strong advocates ourselves. It is to acknowledge the issue. We are all trying to balance the overburdensome administration against the attention we feel from Parliament and the public about doing due diligence and accountability and values and results. It is a balance. I hope we will be able to find a better way forward, but here we are the custodians of government policies in this regard.

Ms. Kolk: Mr. Treusch said that very well. It is a big issue for us. When we consulted, it was clear to me that the middle-sized community is most comfortable with how the program is structured and what they need to do to satisfy our requirements. The smallest communities often do not have the capacity and expertise. The largest communities sometimes are so layered with their own bureaucracy that it becomes a problem.

In our program, we have a service delivery network of regional officials. They try to provide as much guidance as they can and work with the communities and sponsors on the applications so the service providers are doing the work that they are intended to do — that is, serve the homeless — and are not spending too much time on administration.

Our department is involved in examining the blue-ribbon panel recommendations on streamlining grants and contributions, and we understand the balance between risk and accountability. As you have said, if there is a proven record, are there not ways we could streamline? We have our eyes on this and would like to see us being accountable and rigorous while at the same time not placing that burden so much on others.

Senator Fairbairn: I want to focus on one issue spoken of by all three of you. It is an important issue, certainly in the area from which I come, and that is help in the Aboriginal community, both off and on reserve.

I was looking at your comments. It is encouraging that this seems to be a centrepiece in your overall strategy. I can recall when the homeless issue was kicked off a few years back in Calgary and one of the big parts of that was, for obvious reasons, because of the native people in Southern Alberta surrounding these areas.

It has been quite successful in many respects. I have been at some of the occasions when young families are finding their first homes, not glamorous places but functional places.

The one thing that jumped out at me in Ms. Matthews' comments was the announcement of a new $300-million First Nations market housing fund to facilitate access to private-sector financing on reserve.

This is probably one of the most difficult issues that you would have. Could you tell us how that will be done? A lot of things have been tried in the past and have not succeeded. When you talk about facilitating access to private-sector financing on reserve, how will people on reserve do that? Is this particular piece attached to chief and council or is it separate from chief and council? These are tough areas, and the poor housing does not bring forward much hope in so many other issues. If you are in the kinds of places where they live, certainly in some of the areas where I am, it is little wonder there is difficulty with education, literacy and a lot of other things.

How will this new effort work?

Ms. Matthews: Over the next year, we will be consulting widely on this. We will be talking to lenders and others.

Let me give you an illustration of how it could work. There is still a lot of work to be done to make this happen. I presume the committee understands that through the Indian Act a private lender cannot take the property or any assets of the member on reserve. Off reserve, when you go to a lender and sign your mortgage, if you fail to pay, they can take the asset and go after your income. Private lenders, reasonably, do not lend on reserve. There are anomalies. There are a few lenders who will do 75 per cent. They will not go all the way. The rates are like a line of credit rate and not a mortgage rate. It is very expensive. If you are an Aboriginal person on reserve, to get home ownership is costly, and you have to be determined in this country to make that happen.

This will illustrate how the fund could work. A few years ago, CMHC, through its mortgage insurance, created a pilot project for on-reserve lending where CMHC would enter a risk-sharing arrangement with the band and council whereby we would be the intermediary. If a private lender, Royal Bank or TD wanted to make a loan, they would lend it just like off reserve. In a default, CMHC through its mortgage insurance would pay for it and work out who pays what and how behind the scenes through this trust. I will not get into the details, but it is basically that kind of arrangement.

This new fund uses some of the knowledge we had from that pilot project, some of the challenges you saw in terms of how best to have us protected, because CMHC cannot, like a lender, go and get the funds off reserve.

This fund will be a backing. It will be a credit enhancer. It would be close to a line of credit. A band may have other ideas. They may want to create an arrangement with the lender directly without a mortgage insurer, but if they wanted to enter this pilot project with CMHC, using this as an example, a band today is required to hold 6 per cent of what is being lent off reserve in a trust. That trust is arranged with CMHC and band representatives on it. You can appreciate it is complicated and difficult to set up. We are paying lawyers a lot of money.

If a band is eligible to access the fund, that 6 per cent could be coming from that fund and they would not have to set up all these complex financial arrangements.

I know this is complicated. I would be happy to give the committee some background information on this. We can come back and speak to it and give you more information.

We still have a lot of work to do. We, the lenders, the Aboriginal community and Indian Affairs have been working on this for some time, and we see this as a fundamental shift and a real opportunity. The leveraging we anticipate, if it all works out, could be 5 per cent, 6 per cent or 7 per cent or seven times that $300 million. We should be able to meet the needs in terms of those Aboriginal members who want to have home ownership within communities that have the sophistication and desire to enter in this kind of arrangement with this fund.

Senator Fairbairn: Just to be clear, would this mean that an individual family on a reserve could deal with you or do they have to go through some kind of vehicle on the reserve?

Ms. Matthews: Both, just to make it complicated. The band, because it would be the band using the fund, would have to agree. The band would be involved but the intent would be that the individual member would apply to TD or BMO and go through a normal application process. Both parties would be involved.

Senator Fairbairn: I know it is difficult. It was interesting to see it is here. At least are you giving it a good shot.

Ms. Matthews: I would be happy to give the committee a package on this. It is an interesting innovation.

The Chairman: I thank all three of you for being here. You gave us a lot of good information. There are a few more questions we would like to have thrown at you but we did not get the chance. We will perhaps have another opportunity to have you back, after we hear from all the community organizations, and then we will maybe have some further questions at that point in time.

To members of the committee, we have one more item to deal with and that is consideration of draft budgets. The cities subcommittee earlier today passed a budget of $172,653, which it now submits to the committee. We also require two small amounts for our examination of literacy issues — that is $700 more we need there and $2,100 for child care. We are setting up our meetings on child care and have three scheduled in June. We have another session on literacy coming up on May 9. Those are the three budgets.

Does anyone have any questions or comments? Are the three budgets agreed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chairman: Thank you very much, everyone. It was a good session. We will see you next week.

The committee adjourned.