National Newswatch

OTTAWA — Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter says that Canadian governments should consider emulating the non-profit he has promoted for years as a means of alleviating an affordable housing crunch in this country.

Carter has been a longtime volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, which helps low-income families buy a house through affordable payment schedules and getting the families involved in building their homes. 

Carter says other countries like Peru have adopted similar models to help build more affordable housing units and reduce reliance on the social safety net.

The former president is getting a chance to push the message this week as part of a Habitat for Humanity project to build 150 homes across Canada for the country's sesquicentennial, first in Edmonton where the federal infrastructure minister joined the work site and then Wednesday in Winnipeg.

But he acknowledges that the housing challenge remains a difficult one to tackle for policy makers and volunteers.

"It's not enough. What the local, state and federal government do and what volunteers like we do put together makes a big dent in the need, but it's still not enough," he said in an interview from a work site in Edmonton.

"Everywhere we go, the need is well known and people just don't pay enough attention to it."

There are an estimated 1.6 million households considered in "core housing need" — meaning they spend more than one-third of their before-tax income on housing that may be substandard or doesn't meet their needs. The federal government hopes that its forthcoming national housing strategy cuts that figure by at least 500,000 over the next decade.

The plan will look at the entire housing continuum, which includes Habitat for Humanity.

The organization helps families bridge the gap between social housing and market-based homes by giving them affordable payments and interest rates, while also requiring that they invest in the construction of their home through sweat equity.

Carter's argument is that Habitat for Humanity families become responsible taxpayers, which increases government tax revenues and decreases amounts spent on social services.

"They change from a life of dependency on sometimes the federal and local governments to one of self-sufficiency," he said.

The federal Liberals have tried to use the cost of housing as a talking point in the latest round in the ongoing trade dispute over softwood lumber, warning that U.S. housing prices may become unaffordable for many Americans if the Trump administration continues to impose high tariffs on softwood that is used in the construction of new homes.

In May, Carter publicly sided with U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to impose new fees on Canadian exports, which at last count has left the domestic industry facing average duties of about 27 per cent.

The Carter family is involved in softwood lumber and the former president says he believes the rift could soon pass.

"We just want an honest and fair arrangement to be made that suits both sides. And I think this can be done," Carter said.

"We want to be fair to both sides and we want to take care of forestry workers and timber owners as well."

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Click here for more political news headlines
🔔 We're about to launch our newsletter! Make sure you don't miss a beat. Sign up for our newsletter