Jenny Kwan, MP

Member of Parliament, Vancouver East

Jenny Kwan speaks to an Opposition Motion on Housing

On January 31, 2019, I rose to speak to an Opposition Motion, moved by NDP MP Sheri Benson (Saskatoon West), calling on the government to create 500,000 units of quality, affordable housing within ten years, and to commit in Budget 2019 to completing 250,000 of those units within five years:

"Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay.


Let me also acknowledge and thank my colleague, the member for Saskatoon West, for the incredible work she has been doing based on her history and her background, the advocacy she brings to the table, the reasoned approach that she takes to housing with heart and compassion, and always pushing the government to do the right thing. I thank her for all of her efforts.
Housing is one of the most important issues from coast to coast to coast. We are talking about affordable housing that people can access as a home they can afford, a place where they feel safe and where they can thrive. The truth is that we have not had that for a very long time for far too many Canadians.


In 1993, the federal Liberal government cancelled the national affordable housing program. As a result, this country lost more than half a million units of affordable housing that would otherwise have been built by the non-profit sector or the co-operative sector. Just imagine for one minute what our communities would look like across this country in this housing crisis if we had an additional half a million units of affordable housing in our communities. We do not have those units because of that approach, the cancellation of the national affordable housing program by the federal Liberal government.


Since that time, the Conservatives took power and they did nothing about the affordable housing crisis. Therefore, the issue continues and more and more we see people in our communities today in desperate need.


I see this every day in Vancouver East, and it breaks my heart. I walk the streets of my community and there is an area called the Downtown Eastside where I literally have to step over people on the sidewalk because they are homeless. They do not have a place they can call home. Somehow, we think it is okay. Somehow, the government members can brag about how swell they are with their national strategy, which they say they have brought back. They pat themselves on the back and say, “Yay, we are so great.”


We then learn what they have done. They double count the numbers. I am not saying that the government should not be investing in subsidies. I am not saying it should not be renewing the agreements for the co-ops. Of course it should. It should have been doing that all along. The government never should have cancelled the national affordable housing program. The Conservatives should have done that job 10 years ago. Those non-profit and co-op sectors should not have been left to this late date for someone to come to support them. Subsidies were needed, not just now but all the way through. Many non-profit housing projects and co-op housing units had to raise their rents all through these years because they did not get subsidies from the government.


When the government members say they are doing their job and everything is going to be great, they should talk to the people who are on the streets today and ask them how great it is. When they see people in the community, as I have seen, who are vying for awning space to stay out of the rain because they are homeless and they are fighting over that, there is something very wrong with this picture. Not one of us should be patting ourselves on the back to say that we have done a great job, far from it.


Using rhetorical advantage and how they double count to make it sound good appears to be the Liberals' approach to pretty well everything. Just sound good and look good in front of the media, it does not matter what is really happening on the ground. Rhetorical advantage, by the parliamentary secretary's own admission, is what they are doing: counting and double counting so that they can sound good. That is their approach to addressing the affordable housing crisis.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development I might add, admitted that this week, and it was reported in the Toronto Star.


I also have to say that he also admitted it when he appeared at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on July 24, 2018. There he agreed with my assessment of the colossal mistakes made by the Liberal government of the 1990s. Let me quote him on the record.

He said:


I agree with the member from B.C. The mistakes that were made in the early 1990s devastated people in this country and created the national housing crisis. The policies over the last 10 years made it worse.


That is a direct quote from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development, admitting at committee that the Liberals created the national housing crisis, which was then exacerbated by the Conservatives because of their lack of action over the last 10 years.


What happened? Let us take a moment and look at the reality of what people are faced with.
Only 10% of housing construction has been for rental units. A crisis-level shortage of rental units has led to skyrocketing rental costs while working-class and middle-class wages stagnated.


In Vancouver East, my community in Vancouver, our rental vacancy rate is at 1%. In some areas it is at 0%. Imagine that an average cost for a one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver is $2,100. In Vancouver, some 50% of people in the community spend far more than 30% of their total income on accessing safe, secure, affordable housing. Housing is out of reach for people. I am not talking about French villas or anything like that; I am talking about a roof over their heads, a place that they can call home, a place that is safe.


In the Downtown Eastside community, we have some of the worst housing conditions. Some people compare it to third world housing conditions. These are the SRO—single-room occupancy—hotel rooms, which are 100 square feet and cockroach- and bedbug-infested. Some have no heat, no cooking facilities, no toilets or bathrooms, and unsafe conditions, yet those rooms have some of the highest costs per square foot, and the lowest-income and most vulnerable people rent them. That is our reality, and even that housing stock is dwindling.


While the Liberals can sit back and say they are doing great and will flow 9% of the money after the next election to build new housing, I ask them to take a minute and think about the realities of today and what they mean for the people who need that housing now.


I had a constituent who came in asking for help. She lives in a home that is full of mould. Her doctors have said it is not safe for her and her son. However, she has no ability to find alternative affordable housing.


My colleague, the member for Timmins—James Bay, has been raising this issue for many of the people in the aboriginal community, the indigenous community, the Métis community, and what has the government done about that? It is as though it is all going to be okay because the money is going to flow after the next election. In the meantime, the health of people is at risk, and they are in danger. That is the urgency of what we are talking about.


I spent one night on the street, from dusk to dawn, with young people. I can tell members that I do not know how I survived that one night. Right after that I got pneumonia. I was sick for weeks. People live in those conditions because they have no other choice. That is the reality of our housing crisis.


Even young professionals are having a tough time making ends meet. They cannot afford to get affordable housing and live in their own communities, and owning a home is all but a dream for them.


It is time for action. That is why this motion speaks for us. That is why the NDP is calling on this upcoming budget to invest real money, flow the money now, build 250,000 units of affordable housing now and get people off the streets so that we can all do what is needed, what we are elected to do, which is to get these programs going and make a real difference in every community in this country."