The federal NDP’s housing critic was in Nanaimo today to talk about the local impacts of the housing crisis and discuss some of her party’s proposals.
Vancouver East MP Jenny Kwan joined Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Lisa Marie Barron for a round-table discussion with local government and non-profit agency representatives Friday, Aug. 19, at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.
The conversation included community impacts of the crisis and gaps in access to affordable housing, but a primary theme that the MPs were there to discuss was what they called “financialization” of Canada’s housing market. Kwan talked about some of the NDP’s proposals targeting real estate investment trusts that own an outsized share of apartment buildings “that were once affordable rentals, and transforming them into products for financial investment.”
She said New Democrats are calling for a moratorium on REITs and other “corporate landlords” acquiring affordable homes, higher taxes for REITs, and an “acquisition fund” to help non-profit organizations purchase “at-risk rental buildings” that come on the market.
“Across the country, we’re losing more affordable housing than we’re building…” Kwan said. “Aside from government building housing and getting back into the game in a meaningful way of developing housing, we also need to hold the stock of existing affordable housing and these are the low-end market rentals that are out there.”
Kwan said non-profits will have the capacity to buy and manage affordable housing if they are provided the resources to do so. She acknowledged that the sector is experiencing difficulties attracting and retaining staff, and Barron pointed out that those workers themselves are challenged by the housing crisis, too.
“It is not a simple solution, but it is not so complex that it can’t be done, and if you centre your principle on the notion that housing is a basic human right and you go from there…” Kwan said. “All the pieces will become clear and the people who will tell you what needs to be done and how it should be done are the very people who are servicing the community.”
Asked about the acquisition fund, Kwan said any dollar amount would represent a commitment from the federal government that it has a role in helping non-profits acquire affordable housing buildings. She said the government’s investment in the file needs to be tied, at the minimum, to what’s needed to maintain current housing stock.
Those around the table agreed the housing crisis is only getting worse year by year and month by month. Barron’s office fields its share of phone calls from people being reno-victed out of their homes. She and her staff try connect them to appropriate government resources and social service agencies, but unfortunately, sometimes all she can do is hear “heart-breaking stories” to try to motivate more federal leadership on the issue.
“We have great relationships with many of the local organizations to help triage, but the reality is that so many of these people should have never been put in that position in the first place,” Barron said. “And that’s where we need to develop strategies to stop the financialization of our housing market.”
Kirsten Brooker, program coordinator with Nanaimo Family Life Association’s seniors housing navigation, said people who are served two months’ notice to end tenancy end up out on the street before their name even makes it through B.C. Housing’s processing.
The number of seniors living in vehicles is “shocking,” she said, and some are too proud to ask for help until a health-care worker discovers they have been living outside and intervenes. Suicide is almost always contemplated by seniors experiencing homelessness, she said.
Brooker tells people feeling shame that they didn’t fail; rather, it’s the system that’s broken.
“These are people who have been contributing into our community their entire lives and suddenly their home’s taken out from under their feet and now they are in the community seeking services,” Barron said. “The costs to our community of us having people unhoused are tremendous. And not just the impacts on those individuals, but the cost [of] all those additional symptoms that occur because somebody doesn’t have that basic need met.”