Jenny Kwan, MP

Member of Parliament, Vancouver East

Affordable Housing and Homelessness

Across this country, we have an affordable housing crisis.

People are living in tents. People are “couch-surfing”. Home ownership is all but a dream for many.

Imagine what our communities would look like if an additional half a million units of affordable housing were built across this country.

The reality is that families, individuals, single parents and seniors alike are unable to obtain safe, secure, and affordable housing. This is a very real struggle for so many in Vancouver East and across the country. This national problem is of crisis proportions and is steadily worsening. For example, 2018 statistics for the City of Vancouver showed the highest number of people living homeless since the first regional homeless count in 2005. Indigenous peoples face even larger barriers to securing safe affordable housing, and accounted for 40% of the homeless people living in the region, despite being only 2.2% of the overall population. These numbers are unacceptable, because each number represents people in our community who are in crisis.

Our current housing crisis started in 1993, when the Federal Liberals cancelled the National Affordable Housing Program.

As a result, this country lost out on half a million units of affordable housing that would otherwise have been built.

The impact is real and significant.  I have met school children who tell me that they are worry about their housing situation.  Women who were fleeing domestic violence are left with no choice but to return to the abuser because she cannot secure housing.  Families had their children apprehended for no other reason other than the fact that they could not meet their housing needs.  The homeless population are becoming more desperate.  In one instance, I learned that a fight broke out because people were fighting for awning space in an attempt to stay dry as heavy rain poured down. It is high time for government to deliver what so many across the country have called for – a National Affordable Housing program.

Housing is a Human Right

On the night of the homeless count in 2017, 3,605 people spent the night homeless in Metro Vancouver. A substantial number of these individuals reside in Vancouver East. Since 2017, the number of homeless people in Metro Vancouver has increased by 30%, and that number is constantly growing. To break that number down a little, half of them have been homeless for over a year; 16% are young people under the age of 25; 21% are seniors; and 21% either have a part-time or full-time job.

The rental vacancy rate in Vancouver has been sitting at below 1% for years, even those who currently have housing live in constant fear that they may be the next victim of the rental and demo evictions that have been dominating our local news cycles. Many are paying more than 30% of their total income on rent.

If this picture seems wrong to you, it is because the crisis we have in our country is a human rights violation. Housing is declared to be a basic right by the United Nations, and Canada has signed and ratified a number of international human rights treaties that identify the right to adequate housing as a fundamental basic human right.

The persistence of homelessness and unaffordable housing in Canada stands in glaring contradiction to our acknowledgement and recognition of adequate housing as a basic fundamental human right. It is especially unacceptable when Canada is one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

I am calling on the government to act with urgency. The time to fix it was yesterday. We can start today.

There is no question that Canadians across the entire spectrum of housing needs, from emergency housing to home ownership, are calling for immediate action from the government.

I hosted a town hall on affordable housing in 2017, where attendees agreed on:

  • the urgent need for a national affordable housing program;
  • the demand for renewed and ongoing federal housing subsidies;
  • the commitment for long-term solutions (not two-year transitional measures) for co-op housing,
  • the call for the Liberals to honour their election promise to eliminate all GST on new capital investments in affordable rental housing;
  • the need for dedicated funding for aboriginal housing; and
  • the demand for strategies to address the housing affordability crisis in homeownership.16864417_1317548198345052_4697325658692034706_n.jpg

Everyday Canadians deserve a government who will put your concerns ahead of the corporate elites.

Yet the Liberals’ last budget included nothing to address these urgent issues this year, and allocated a measly $10 million next year. That’s peanuts compared to the $840 million-a-year tax break the Liberals are keeping for Canada’s ultrarich CEOs.

To be clear: 90% of the money that the Liberals promised to spend on affordable housing is postponed to the fiscal years following the next election—a truly cynical shell game playing politics with people’s real struggles.

We can do better. We must do better.

That’s why the NDP calls on the government to take immediate action: to commit to building 500,000 units over 10 years, and for 250,000 of them to be built within the first 5 years, beginning in Budget 2019.