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Pressures for affordable housing continue to rise in Vancouver as the city saw two housing rallies take place over the weekend.The first drew a crowd of 50 activists on Friday, who gathered outside of Vancouver’s City Hall to demand that affordable housing be made a priority in the municipality. The rally was organized by COPE, the Coalition of Progressive Electors, which calls for investments in co-ops and social housing, zoning for rent controls and enforcement of health standards in buildings.”We now have a two-tier housing market here,” said Gayle Gavin, COPE member and one of the event’s speakers. “We have a housing market for people who have a great deal of money and we have a housing market for the rest of us who can’t afford to be in that housing market and that’s becoming not just as buyers but more and more everyday as renters.”

Meena Wong, COPE’s mayoral candidate, also spoke to Friday’s crowd, highlighting the need for local government action.

“It’s up to us, the people. I believe the people in the democratic system are the masters,” she said. “So we need to demand our government to focus on completing and perfecting our regulation or set it up so our local residents — our citizens — are protected and their livelihood are provided for with affordable housing.”

On Saturday, a second housing rally took place outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. Organized by Housing Action for Local Taxpayers (HALT), the event drew over 250 of supporters according to HALT’s Facebook page.

“We’re here because we’re fed up,” said Josh Gordon, a professor in Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy to the crowd. “It’s been going on too long, this housing affordability crisis. It’s been bad in the past, and now it’s even worse and so now we see action. We have the most unaffordable housing market Canada has ever seen. That’s stunning, and there’s a reason for that. We have renters paying record-high rates, and many people being evicted into desperate situations. Meanwhile, there are thousands and thousands of units that sit empty. That is wrong.”

Formed only a few months ago, HALT is a non-partisan community group seeking action from Canada’s government to address the country’s current foreign money fuelled housing crisis. Saturday’s rally was an effort to tell all levels of government that they’ve let the country’s housing crisis go on for too long and to demand that governments work together.

“We live in a country where we’ll spend ten thousand dollars a month for somebody if they end up in an emergency room or hospital bed, just to avoid spending a few hundred dollars a month for a social housing unit,” said Kishone Roy, CEO of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association. “We’ll spend $4,000 a month to lock somebody up in jail but we won’t give them the stability of a home.”

As these activist movements continue, the federal government is collecting public inputon a national housing strategy until October 21. Several roundtables will take place before then to consult with vulnerable groups including Indigenous and Northern communities.

Despite the fact that these two rallies took place separately over the weekend, COPE member Wilson Munoz called upon concerned citizens to work together if they want to see change in the current housing crisis.

“We need people to come together,” he said. “We need people to realize that if we don’t mobilize, if we don’t work together, if we don’t make a stand, if we are not united, nothing is going to happen.”

Evictions loom as demands for federal action against Site C rise

Photo: flickr/DeSmogCanada

For three generations, Arlene Boon’s family has farmed in the unique microclimate within the Peace River Region. Now, she and her husband Ken have been told they might be forced to leave their home by Christmas as B.C. Hydro’s controversial Site C developments progress.

“[Site C] is going to take away part or all of our livelihoods,” Ken Boon, President of the Peace Valley Landowner Association told rabble. “We don’t know what we’re going to do yet. Where would we move to replace what we have?”

This push to develop the area’s highways and infrastructure to prepare for Site C is happening despite the fact that several federal permits are still required. The Boon family isn’t the only one that might lose its home as early as December.

“For all the landowners that are in danger of losing their homes, there’s a very real possibility that we could lose our home and our property and then this project could still get shut down,” said Boon. “Arlene and I have been questioning the timeline for why they feel they need to buy us out by this Christmas and start building a road next year.”

Despite this rapidly progressing timeline, Boon says that the federal government shouldn’t issue permits if it’s not what is best for the public.

“If it’s not in the public interest or is going against First Nations treaty rights or any reasons like that, this federal government should feel no obligation to issue a permit,” he said. “In fact, the opposite is true — it’s their obligation not to issue permits if it’s in the best interest.”

A recent poll by Abacus Data shows the 73 per cent of people polled support Site C or can support it under circumstances. However, some have suggested the questions were misleading and the stats neglect that opposition to Site C has doubled since 2013.

It’s these required federal permits that activist groups fighting against Site C are focusing on in recent campaigns. For example, Leadnow is circulating a petition to the federal government and is encouraging Canadians to call upon federal ministers to reject permits.

Along with loss of productive farmlands and dismissal of Indigenous treaty rights, Amara Possian, Campaign Manager at Leadnow, told rabble that there are economic concerns that affect all British Columbians, not just farmers in the region.

“We’re worried about the economic side of things,” she said. “There’s the issue that B.C. doesn’t even need the energy that Site C is going to produce and hydro bills will be going up.”

Andrea Morison, Coordinator of the Peace Valley Environment Association, one of the organizations that helps run the annual Paddle for the Peace event, echoed these economic concerns, pointing to B.C. Hydro’s projected deficit and its potential inability to recoup the loss.

“B.C. Hydro itself has stated…that it will operate at a loss of $800 million for the first four years of operation,” she told rabble. “There’s a lot of concern around the demand for this power and the cost for this power.”

This argument isn’t new, and is one that Adrian Dix, NDP critic for B.C. Hydro has been very vocal about.

“B.C. Hydro and the provincial Liberal government are playing a reckless game with British Columbians. They are building the Site C dam even though it is apparent that we do not need the power. The consequences will include lost jobs, higher electricity rates and long-term damage to B.C. Hydro and provincial finances,” he wrote in a DeSmog article.

“We are going to be paying for Site C for about 70 years, and we have locked ourselves into a very old technology. Our current dams are paid for and will always be competitive for that reason, but not Site C. It is like entering into a 70-year contract for a flip phone at exactly the wrong time. In fact, would you sign any high cost 70-year deal for your hand-held device when prices are dropping?”

With these compounding concerns, activists are not keeping quiet. Leadnow’s petition continues to circulate and nearly 400 protestors took the water at the 11th annual Paddle for the Peace to fight against Site C’s development in the area on July 9. Like Leadnow, Morison said the Peace Valley Environment Association and the Paddle for the Peace’s focus is on the federal government.

“Right now the big push is on the federal government,” she said. “We’re hopeful that with this new, federal Liberal government that they will not simply rely on the bad decision making of the previous Conservative government and that they’ll take a look and appreciate the fact that there are significant concerns.”

Canada urgently needs national housing program, say advocates

JANUARY 18, 2016
Photo: flickr/ Caelie_Frampton

The federal budget is set to be released this spring by the new Liberal government and on the minds of many is a glaring issue that has been missing for over two decades: a national housing program.

Over 200,000 Canadians experience homelessness annually, and 3.3 million Canadian households are considered “precarious,” meaning they are unaffordable, below standards or overcrowded. Nearly 20 per cent of households experience significant struggles with affordability and the United Nations has officially declared the lack of a housing strategy in Canada to be a “national emergency.”

That’s right: in one of the most affluent countries in the world, we have a homelessness emergency.

Leilani Farha, Executive Director of Canada Without Poverty and UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing advocates for a national housing program that sees housing as a basic human right, a declaration that would influence all decisions at the federal level as a result.

“Canada has been told by the UN on more than one occasion what the right to adequate housing means in the context of Canada and what has to happen to ensure that everyone is enjoying the right to housing,” she says.

So, if Canada were to implement a national housing program, where would it begin?

Earlier this month, the Liberal government announced that it will conduct a nation-wide homeless count. While acquiring data such as this appears to be a promising first step, housing advocates suggest that it misses several important elements.

“The homeless count gives you an indication at that particular time period on what’s going on, but it’s only one indication,” says Libby Davies, former NDP MP for B.C.’s Vancouver East riding. “What needs to be understood is that the housing crisis is much more complex.”

Both Davies and Farha point out that homelessness includes those who might be couch surfing, living in their car or staying with family members.

“Homelessness is very visible in some ways, but homelessness also includes people who live in very precarious housing situations,” says Davies. “They may not necessarily be on the street and they may not necessarily be in a shelter, but they can still be homeless because they don’t have any security of tenure, they don’t have any stable housing environment.”

As a result, Farha suggests the government should implement a tracking system that includes qualitative elements by interviewing both the visibly and invisibly homeless to understand the systemic cause for their lack of housing.

Even with these measurements, she cautions against remaining in the information-gathering phase.

“One of the things that worries me about measurement is that we might get sidetracked and stall,” she says.

Instead, Davies calls for a national housing program that commits to moving quickly.

“[The government has] to show that they are willing to move quickly to make an investment in housing but they also need to be clear that it’s going to be sustainable for the long term,” she says.

Ensuring this sustainability would require implementing goals, timelines and mechanisms for monitoring, both she and Farha suggest.

At the ground level, Jean Swanson, anti-poverty activist in Vancouver says the government needs to commit to building out-of-market, social housing that low-income people can afford. She also comments that many of the discussions surrounding lofty real estate price tags in cities, specifically Vancouver, tend to neglect the most vulnerable.

“Poor people who can’t afford housing are being lost in the discussion,” she says. “As a result homelessness is going up.”

Swanson also points to the problem of “social mix” housing that includes a requirement of social housing in one third of a building’s units. While these projects — most commonly seen in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside — might appear to be a viable, middle-ground solution, Swanson says that it means development of affordable units is extremely limited and the needs of low-income residents aren’t being met.

While these are the needs in Vancouver, communities across the country struggle with unique situations of housing affordability and availability. It’s this diversity that has led Cathy Crowe, street nurse and housing activist in Toronto, to suggest it’s not simply a collection of housing strategies that Canada needs, but a comprehensive, overarching housing program — in the same way that we have a national health-care program. This would help the country avoid, as she calls it, a “patchwork quilt” of solutions across the country.

Crowe also criticizes the government’s current strategy of “Housing First” which strives to place visibly homeless individuals who meet certain criteria into housing — then offering other supports if possible.

“Housing First is a detour. It’s smoke and mirrors,” she says. “It allows people to think that something is being done about homelessness in the absence of a housing program.”

With all these factors in mind there is no question that the task of creating an effective, nation-wide housing program is no small task. Yet Davies points out that there is an exceptional amount of expertise and knowledge on the issue across the country.

“The potential and the capacity is huge. It’s there; it’s waiting to be unleashed,” she says. “The problem has been a lack of a national program to tie it together and to provide the budgetary supports. We have this tremendous creativity and ideas on a local level…it just needs to be scaled up to a national level.”