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Federal housing policies and the developing urban structure : conflicts and resolution Barrow, Malcolm McDonald

Abstract

In this thesis, an attempt is made to relate the housing policies of the Federal Government to the income structure of families in Canada. It is felt that this is a fruitful area of study for students of planning since the questions of slum areas, urban renewal programs, and the general promotion of safety and welfare are involved. Moreover, in the urbanizing context in which we live today, cognizance will have to be taken of problems which cities face when low-income families settle within their boundaries. The hypothesis with which the thesis was mainly concerned was this: Given the structure of income distribution in Canada, the housing policies of the Federal Government, with their major reliance on home-ownership financing, inevitably produce a housing shortage within the urban centres of the country. To test the main hypothesis, federal policies as codified in the National Housing Act, as well as the speeches of Members of Parliament — especially those responsible for administering the housing Acts over the years—were examined. The findings clearly supported the contention, that not only does federal policies emphasize housing for home-owners, but insistence on private production of housing to meet all demands was the keystone of federal housing policies. These aspects of housing policy developed during the Second World War and continued into the 1950s and early 1960s. Quite recently, however, there has been a noticeable shift in the emphasis given to public housing. Having affirmed that Government policies did in fact emphasize market provision of housing seemingly without regard to the full implications, the question of needs, and the basic components of need were investigated. Needs, it was pointed out, are not identical with demand. For whereas demand is expressed in terms of the ability and willingness to pay in the market, needs must be sought out, by first establishing the income level which allows the individual to buy his own home. For those who cannot meet market requirements, public housing, limited-dividend housing and other forms of subsidized housing are necessary. Home-ownership as a value is perhaps still very strong in Canada. If satisfactory housing is provided for low-income families a policy of educating the public as to the benefits to the community as a whole is necessary. Such an education program should point out that home-ownership under the National Housing Act is itself subsidized. Furthermore, home-ownership often means massive assistance. The mortgagor may be said to own heavy debts, just as easily as he is said to "own" his home. The market for housing production was examined in detail. Four significant points emerged: 1. Families receiving less than $4,000 cannot afford to own a home even under NHA arrangements and therefore are excluded from the home-ownership market. 2. For those families unable to benefit from the home-ownership provisions of the Act, low-rental housing is necessary. But so far only a negligible supply of housing has been produced under the NHA in spite of a wide range of provisions. 3. Study of financing conditions in Vancouver would indicate that there are significant shifts away from the use of NHA. On the other hand, NHA loans continue to play a noticeable role in suburban areas of Greater Vancouver where suitable lot sizes and land costs can be found. k.. Evidence suggests that of late, more serious consideration is being accorded the problem of low-rental housing and public housing. The Minister assigned the task of overseeing the administration of the National Housing Act, has recently called attention to the plight of the many thousands of families who cannot obtain even minimal standard housing accommodation with public subsidy. In short, greater recognition is being given to the crucial role that the incomes of families play. But such a policy would have to show awareness of the fact that, since the federal resources available for housing are limited, allocation of federal funds should be in that area of housing in which greatest national welfare would result. However, the basic problem of effectively providing housing for low-income groups remains. Its solution will require more wholehearted effort on the part of the provincial government along the lines of the government of the Province of Ontario. But it is felt that the Federal Government can also show much more initiative.

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