Rosalind Waters: The Green Party’s integrated housing framework was released last week. It is disappointingly sketchy and strikingly similar in its key direction to the Liberal government’s housing action plan. It suggests accessing the taxpayer-funded incentives to developers provided by CMHC (which the Liberals are already doing) and increasing the shelter ceiling for those living on income assistance (which resembles the rent supplement program of the Liberals).
There is no mention of public investment in new housing units, except a small amount for seniors’ housing – another position which mirrors exactly that of the Liberals. The Green Party talks about achieving market stabilization as if the market is going to rescue us in our time of need.
The market has never been very good at providing low income Islanders with decent affordable housing. I have learned through working with adults with intellectual disabilities over the past 20 years that those living on low incomes, (and those working with them), know the market doesn’t work. They live the consequences of its failures. They know the need for more public or non-profit housing projects which offer rents geared to tenants’ income, and strong municipal action against the loss of affordable homes to gentrification.
But their voice is never heard - drowned out by the chatter of our political class which balks at the possibility that we might best take care of one another through collective investment and ownership.
The tenants of Grafton and Cumberland streets who were evicted by Holland College last year raised the need for more public housing at the beginning of their first tenant meeting. But these tenants have no influence, do they?
Rent supplements can be an important stop-gap measure to relieve hardship, but they cannot be the core policy of a housing strategy. They do nothing to increase the stock of affordable apartments; and nothing to reduce rent levels.
Low-interest loans to landlords in return for a quota of affordable apartments are unlikely to create homes that the 30 per cent of Islanders with the lowest incomes can afford. The definition of ‘affordable’ used by government is out of whack with their reality.
According to a prominent local developer, the cheapest one bedroom rent he could provide would be $800-$1,000. But, according to Stats Canada data, well over one half of all one-person households in P.E.I. would not be able to afford that rent!
It is well-established that the housing needs of those living on small incomes are best met through various forms of publicly or community-owned and operated housing which guarantee that all, or a significant proportion, of the rents charged will be geared to the tenants’ household income.
This strategy comes along with the obvious benefit that taxpayers’ money is used to create housing which will always belong to the people of Prince Edward Island. It will be there to benefit future generations.
European cities and countries have been following this general principle for decades. In Finland, nearly three-quarters of residents are eligible for publicly-financed social housing. In Vienna, three in five residents live in municipal and co-operative social housing.
We must get past the prevailing phobia of public housing if we are to take care of one another’s housing needs in a way which will truly work.
- Rosalind Waters of Georgetown Royalty worked for 20 years as a community legal worker in the area of tenants’ rights in Toronto, Ont. and Victoria, BC. She has also worked for 20 years with adults with intellectual disabilities on P.E.I.
Source: The Guardian