Making B.C.’s Housing Crisis an Issue: By Harold Lavender

sha-fiery-file_protest-in-ndp-office_greyVancouver and other parts of B.C. are experiencing a dire housing crisis. Huge numbers of people are affected when rents soar far beyond their incomes and ability to pay.

But the crisis hits hardest and most cruelly at those who struggle the most and have the least ability to pay. This especially includes indigenous people, women, new immigrants and migrants, people with disabilities and seniors.
The market has very little interest in providing low income housing. The need is growing but the amount of available low income housing is shrinking.  The only feasible solution is for governments to step in and help build and finance a major increase in social housing for low income people.

The housing crisis has become desperate because all levels of government are abdicating their responsibility to address this crucial issue.

We urgently need a national housing strategy and the federal government to step up to the plate. But it ain’t going to happen under a Harper government. The City of Vancouver passes the buck saying that it doesn’t have the money to do social housing. However, a provincial election will be held this May.  This provides an excellent opportunity to raise public awareness and demand much stronger provincial action to build social housing and protect tenants.

This fall work began on building a B.C. Social Housing Coalition. Stands for Social Housing have been organized in the Vancouver region and other cities in B.C. The Coalition will hold a formal launch on Tuesday February 5, at 7:00 pm at the Vancouver Public Library.

The coalition has developed a 6 point list of demands. During the election and after, it will press for the implementation of these demands.

One of the central demands is to build 10,000 units of good quality social housing per year. This is clearly a bold demand. But sometimes groups ask for too little and get far less. The demand is based on what it would realistically take to solve the low income housing crisis in B.C.

Homelessness (both visible street homelessness and people warehoused in shelters) is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many more hidden homeless who sleep with family, in cars or on couches. Even larger numbers are at risk of homelessness because they spend way too much of their income on rent (over 30% and frequently much more) for often substandard housing.

Many existing social housing units (including in co-ops) could be lost in the future due to expiring operating agreements and market low income housing stock is being lost to gentrification and poor maintenance.

Clearly a major public investment is necessary. Governments claim there is no money, but is this really the case?  Too often government policies are designed to serve the interests of big corporations and the wealthiest individuals. For instance, over the past decade corporations and the rich have received large tax cuts thus diminishing government revenue to meet social and human needs.  In short it is all about public priorities and political will.

Resolving the housing crisis is part of a social justice agenda. They only way we will get justice is by building public awareness and a strong and determined movement, which will keep up the pressure for our demands, regardless of who is elected.

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