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  • Still Renovating: A History of Canadian Social Housing Policy by Greg Suttor
  • Roy Todd
Greg Suttor, Still Renovating: A History of Canadian Social Housing Policy (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2016), 328 pp. Cased. $110. ISBN 978-0-7735-4814-5. Paper. $34.95. ISBN 978-0-7735-4815-2.

This historical analysis of Canadian social housing policy spans almost seven decades, describing developments and changes in policy from the 1940s until the first decade of this century. Following an introduction, the book is organised chronologically, its sequence beginning with 'Early Postwar Foundations' and concluding with 'The 2000s: Modest Re-engagement'. Greg Suttor charts an increase and decrease in social housing characterising the interval from 1965 until 1993 as the 'social housing prime period' (p. 9) and the 1990s as a period of retrenchment. The severity of this policy change is made clear by the numbers of housing units completed each year: total social housing in 1970 was 25,098 units, and total social housing in 1998 was 1,296 units (table 8.3). Archives (legislation, policy documents, research reports, and correspondence), and evidence from 25 interviews (although the interview schedule is not provided) form the main sources of data for the book. In each decade he identifies 'turning points' which depend upon economic circumstances, ideological shifts, legislative changes, the creation or dissolution of relevant organisations, or governmental transfers of responsibility for social housing. Two appendices, seven tables, 11 figures, 49 pages of notes, a substantial bibliography in two sections (published sources and government documents), and a detailed index buttress the author's argument. The scope of Suttor's argument can be illustrated by his summary comments about the collapse of a housing policy framework in the 1990s: 'The end of the prime period of Canadian social housing was collateral damage of the political economy of the 1990s with its economic stress, fiscal distress, neoliberal thinking and adversarial approach to intergovernmental relations' (p. 150). The concluding chapter brings together a précis of the previous chapters and a section entitled 'broad themes in the policy history'. These themes include 'Ideas and Policy Borrowing' (an internationally comparative aspect of the argument) and 'Actors and Contingent Events'. The book concludes with a comment about hopes of 'renewed federal leadership' (p. 195) in the current decade. This is a thorough and detailed analysis of developments and changes in housing policy, solidly grounded on the extensive sources used by the author. Recurrent conceptual themes in the book relate to the idea of the welfare state and the ways in which neo-liberalism have shaped housing policy. Suttor's explicit view of the welfare state (e.g. p. 13) is relatively narrow, emphasising provision for the poor. A broader conception of the welfare state which includes government of the economy by the state and deployment of fiscal, monetary, and labour market policies–in use by contemporary economists and sociologists–is a perspective which can inform analysis of neoliberal policies. There are problems of housing affordability in many towns and cities in Canada, with dependence on food banks by needy families among the working poor and increasing homelessness: this book provides a clear guide to the policies which have contributed to such social problems. [End Page 241]

Roy Todd


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