Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
John C. Weaver
This thesis examines the critical role played by the federal government in housing. It concludes that this involvement is undertaken in the context of a "non-policy", more responsive to the appetites of powerful business interests for profit, than towards the shelter needs of Canadians. This tilt towards the private pursuit of profit, although not by any means unique to Canada, appears to be applied with far more single-mindedness than other industrialized, western states with similar traditions of relatively high living standards and democratic government. This pattern emerged strongly during the British colonial period and was carried through the critical era of rapid industrialization prior to the advent of the First World War. Part and parcel with it came a housing crisis as a result of rapidly rising rents and increased overcrowding. With the depression of 1913 having revealed the comfortable remedies of municipal boosterism and suburban sprawl as a cause rather than the solution to this crisis, attempts at solutions through municipal or limited dividend companies and by town planning began to become popular across the Dominion. However many of these efforts were suspended during the First World War despite the fact that housing conditions worsened due to wartime conditions. With the arrival of peace the threat of social unrest and the promptings of manufacturers, labour unions and veterans t associations finally prompted the federal government into action, but the housing scheme that was devised benefited only those in search of home ownership and was manipulated by corruption. With the revival of the residential construction industry in 1924, no further calls for government intervention in housing was heard till the industry's collapse during the great depression of the 1930's. This disaster did provoke a profound questioning of the prevailing marketplace ethos and as a result many social workers, architects, engineers, trade unions, manufacturers and construction companies advanced the then novel idea that housing conditions amenable to the needs of human life should be provided to all members of the community, irregardless of ability to pay, through government subsidized rents in municipal or limited dividend private projects. These views were supported by a special Parliamentary housing committee in 1935, but the actual federal housing legislation passed in this year bore no resemblance to their proposals. Instead joint loans by government and lending corporations for home ownership were arranged under the Dominion Housing Act, the government portion being lent at a subsidized rate of interest. The problem of providing healthier low rental accommodation was assigned to the Economic Council of Canada for further study.
The DHA of 1935 set the tone for future government housing programs. Even the promise of further study for low rental housing was never kept, as the proposed Economic Council never met. After the Second World War the revised NHA stimulated the mortgage market for the affluent, while efforts in providing rental housing for the less fortunate were restricted to subsidies for private projects and a miniscule public housing program" By the 1970's even more extensive subsidies were provided for home ownership, which helped to maintain inflated land prices and land developers' profits, problems that caused the initiation of these later schemes in the first place.
The federal government's role in housing has seen the growth of powerful land development corporations as a virtue, not a vice; the key to the solutions of housing problems was viewed as always dependent upon their being resolved by responsible businessmen and avoiding any dangerous "socialization" of a key capitalist institution, the housing industry.
Bacher, John C., "The Origins of a Non-Policy; The Development of the Assumption of a Housing Responsibility by by the Canadian Government" (1980). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 5558.
McMaster University Library