Affordable housing now on the federal radar

By Pauline Kerr

Every election campaign brings to the fore certain issues. Federal campaign 2021 was no different.

Take, for example, the housing crisis – million-dollar price tags on ordinary houses, and people getting into bidding wars for modest apartments, while too many Canadians have been drawing perilously close to becoming homeless.

Apart from the occasional flurry of political controversy over encampments in urban parks, the housing crisis remained a local, not federal issue.

That was then; this is now. The election campaign put the housing crisis on the federal radar, and there it must stay.

The situation did not appear out of nowhere. Housing costs, especially in this country’s larger cities, have been outpacing income for years. The general view has been that the law of supply and demand would take care of the situation. It did not.

The reasons are many – foreign investment driving up housing costs to astronomical levels, Airbnb taking rental properties off the market for local residents (why deal with long-term tenants who are almost impossible to evict when you can make piles of money with less risk renting by the day or week), people moving away from the city to buy their little piece of heaven in this area during the pandemic, and more.

The list could go on for pages. The time has come to forget the list and start looking for solutions.

There are people in this community – ordinary people who have jobs and pay taxes – who cannot find an apartment to rent, and whose dream of one day owning a house has evaporated.

They include the young and growing family crowded into a too-small apartment they can barely afford, the couple couch-surfing with friends and relatives while they search for something decent to rent, the senior citizen in the too-large house who simply cannot afford a more suitable place, and folks who have been on the waiting list for subsidized housing for years.

Something Ottawa and Queen’s Park have failed to understand is the huge grey area between living in a nice house or apartment, and camping under a bridge. That is where the term affordable housing comes into play.

One does not need an economics degree to define affordable housing in words we all understand.

Affordable housing is what a family can pay for rent or mortgage without having to decide which utility bills can be put off for another month and depending on charity to feed and clothe the kids. Food banks are an absolute godsend for people in need, but they were never meant to be a permanent solution to poverty.

Not everyone in this community earns six-figure salaries, or makes a million-dollar profit on a house in the city. The ones fortunate enough to be in either of these categories will need people to check through their groceries, prepare and serve their restaurant meals, babysit their kids, cut their hair and eventually look after them when they need home care.

A community without a wide range of housing options at varied prices is in trouble. Jobs remaining vacant because prospective employees cannot find a place to live mean more businesses in this community will close. This will keep happening unless all levels of government work together to resolve the housing crisis.

A good place to start is looking at housing units, be they apartments or single-family dwellings, that sit empty for literally years – investment properties. Government also needs to take a close and critical look at practices that encourage people to pay far more than they can afford for housing – blind bidding, bidding wars and more. Laws that prevent bad tenants from being evicted need to be changed, as well as laws that allow landlords to get rid of good tenants in order to raise rents.

Contrary to what a famous former prime minister once said, the federal government definitely needs to be in the bedrooms of Canadians, as well as their kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms.

In a country as wealthy as Canada, decent, affordable housing should be a right, not a dream.

 

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