Jenny Kwan, MP

Member of Parliament, Vancouver East

Speech - Housing is a Human Right

Tonight in Metro Vancouver, 3,605 people will be spending the night homeless. A substantial number of these individuals reside in my riding of Vancouver East.

    The number of people, 3,605 is obtained from the 2017 homelessness count. Since 2014, 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 25; 21% are seniors; and, yes, 21% either have a part-time or full-time job.

    In my riding, where the rental vacancy rate has been sitting at below 1% for years, even those who are currently housed live in constant fear that they may be the next victim of the rental evictions 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 members, it is because the situation we have in my riding and indeed throughout the country is a human rights violation. Housing is declared as 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 having adequate housing as a basic fundamental human right.

    This is especially unacceptable when Canada is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Of course, this housing crisis did not occur overnight. In fact, I would argue that our housing crisis began in 1993, when the Liberal government cancelled Canada's national affordable housing program.

    Had the program not been cancelled, today we would have half a million more units of affordable housing across Canada than we do currently. In B.C., we would have an additional 100,000 units. With 100,000 units of affordable housing, we would be able to house every single homeless person in Metro Vancouver 27 times over. Just imagine what that would look like for our communities.

    Constituents and organizations in my riding have many creative visions for how to bring about affordable housing in a way that not only houses our community's most vulnerable, but in doing so, add culture, heritage, and beauty to our community.

    In Vancouver Chinatown, for example, community organizations, as well as Chinese Canadian youth and seniors living in Chinatown have requested that all levels of government work together to either do a land swap or purchase 105 Keefer from a private developer and build it for the community, with special emphasis for low-income seniors' housing.

     In other parts of Chinatown, work has been underway to preserve and renovate Chinese society and clan association buildings to better serve the social and housing needs of community members. The city has committed to renew eight major clan association buildings, but there are many more that would benefit from federal funding so we can better serve the needs of the community, by creating usable community cultural spaces, space for food programs, and affordable housing.

    In the heart of my riding, the Urban Native Youth Association has been working with the City of Vancouver, the province, and the private sector to realize their vision of building a native youth centre. This centre will be a hub for the urban indigenous community, with multipurpose programming spaces that provides for culturally responsive services.

    Above the centre will be 180 units of affordable rental housing units for indigenous youth and families. With over a decade of hard work and many partnerships, 50,000 square feet of land has been secured for the project, and fundraising efforts to fund the construction are underway. The organization has already raised $2.6 million to date for this project and is requesting $10 million from the federal government so they can complete it.

     I hope the federal government will join in and be a partner in this initiative. Especially when we consider the fact that in Vancouver, 34% of our homeless population is indigenous when they only comprise 2% of the general population.

    In fact, what we need is a national indigenous housing strategy.

    I have mentioned that the rental vacancy rates in metro Vancouver have been sitting at below 1% for a very long time, and that this situation leaves renters vulnerable. It has been estimated that in B.C., there are 117,000 rental households who cannot afford their homes, and there is a backlog of over 80,000 rental units that are required to meet current needs. To meet future demands, 7,000 new units will need to be added or constructed annually.

    In B.C., many non-profit housing societies, businesses, partners and stakeholders have come together and are ready to work to solve our housing crisis. The BC Rental Housing Coalition has developed a comprehensive, 10-year plan to address the province's housing needs. The plan includes the construction of new housing, funds to protect and maintain current housing stock, as well as income and other supports for individuals and families who need it. It has put its assets, equity and expertise on the table, and is inviting the provincial and federal governments to come to the table as equal partners. The coalition estimates that to meet B.C.'s current housing needs, annual investments of $1.84 billion are needed. The community housing sector is ready to chip in $41 million annually and requests $691.2 million in annual investments from the federal government. While this may seem like a big price tag, the cost of doing nothing is a lot more.

    Homelessness in and of itself costs Canada $7 billion annually, $1 billion in B.C. alone. It is common knowledge that every dollar we invest in providing a home to those who find themselves homeless yields over $2 of savings in areas like health care, the justice system, and other social supports. It has also been found that every dollar invested by the government into housing construction also results in $1.52 of GDP growth. In addition, making housing more affordable would increase disposable income for the average household, and generate more economic activity.

    From the proposals, we can also see that housing will add value to our communities in provisions beyond a home. Investing in housing is also protecting our culture, history, and heritage. Investing in housing is caring for our elders and youth. Investing in housing is taking steps toward reconciliation, and honouring our nation-to-nation commitments to indigenous peoples. Investing in housing is nurturing families and building communities.

     Innovative ideas, experienced organizations, workable plans, and secured sites are ready and in place, and we are ready to get this going. The community is coming to us with assets and work plans. In some cases, the municipal and provincial governments are ready and have been doing their part. It is due time that the federal government steps up and becomes a partner in all of these important projects.

     Instead, I am disappointed to see that money has not flowed on the ground to build real units and house real people. The Liberal government says it has a housing plan, but 90% of that promised funding will not actually be spent until after the next election. This is not acceptable when people and families are desperate now. The government needs to invest now. Not only have we not started building, but existing affordable housing stock is being threatened by government inaction. There are 34 housing co-ops in Vancouver East, with a total of 1,669 units. If the government does not renew operating agreements and ensure support is in place for rent subsidies for low-income families, I fear those families and individuals will join the ranks of Vancouver's homeless. This must not be allowed to happen.

     Let us not forget the needs of many individuals in Vancouver who are dreaming of owning their homes and raising their families but are finding this dream further and further out of reach. Many of these people who cannot afford to own homes in my riding have been living in communities for generations. I urge the government to develop a comprehensive measure to address the housing affordability crisis.

    Investing in housing is an investment. If we shut down tax havens and close the CEO stock loopholes, that will allow for the money that is required to build housing for all Canadians.

    It is said that a nation is measured by how well we treat our most vulnerable. Let us start with a very basics. I ask all members to support this bill, with a clear declaration that housing is a fundamental basic right.