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No political party for 100,000 people facing homelessness in B.C.

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Social Housing Coalition BC statement on BC Liberal and NDP housing platforms, written from unceded Coast Salish Territory:

On Wednesday, April 24th, the BC NDP released its platform statement on housing. Consistent with the party’s position on welfare rates, there is very little in the platform for low-income people. While the BC Liberal platform is completely silent on social housing and welfare rates, the NDP platform promises are woefully inadequate.

During the current tenure of the BC Liberals, homelessness and the acute housing crisis has expanded considerably. From 2002 until 2010 homelessness in Vancouver nearly tripled to 1,713, and throughout the province over 10,000 people are visibly homeless. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface are tens of thousands of people among the “hidden” homeless and over 65,000 are at risk of homelessness, paying above 50 per cent of their income for rent, often for inadequate and insecure housing.

The BC Liberal housing platform mischaracterizes the party’s record on social housing by counting shelter beds, provincially-purchased SRO rooms and subsidized rents among its count of social housing. Newly built units of social housing, in fact, have been meagre over the past decade, and the BC Liberals’ 2013 election platform does not promise or plan a single unit of new social housing in the future.

Compared to the BC Liberals, the NDP platform gestures towards the housing crisis that accompanies increasing poverty and inequality in B.C. Unfortunately, these gestures appear to be empty. On the housing front, the NDP are not “moving forward, one practical step at a time,” but taking a step in the wrong direction.

NDP housing platform: Continuing the Liberal legacy

The NDP’s Platform Statement on Housing is part of its plan for “Reducing Poverty and Inequality.” Point four of the Platform Statement on Housing reads:

 4. Expand affordable housing

 > Build up to 1,500 units of affordable non-profit, co-operative and rental housing for low- and moderate-income families, seniors and individuals each year by leveraging the existing $250 million Housing Endowment Fund to support partnerships and equity contributions with local governments, the private sector, and the non-profit and co-operative housing sectors.

 > Strengthen and rebalance the Residential Tenancy Act and Manufactured Home Act to better protect tenants and landlords.

The Housing Coalition responds with the following points.

-  The platform announces a plan to “build up to 1,500 units” a year. It does not promise a specific number of new units. Rather, 1,500 is the ceiling, and in any given year, less than that may be built. Even if 1,500 units of social housing were to be built a year, B.C. would still fall short 1,200 units a year just trying to keep up with population growth, not to speak of actually mounting a challenge to homelessness.

-  Whatever the number, the NDP’s platform is not promising social housing for low-income people and families but rather a mix of “affordable non-profit, co-operative and rental housing for low- and moderate-income families, seniors and individuals.” The language here avoids the expression “social housing” and is couched in vague terms. “Affordable” is undefined, as is “low- and moderate-income” levels, and there is no indication of how much of the housing will be for those most in need, including people on welfare or basic pensions.

-  These units will be paid for by “leveraging the existing $250 million Housing Endowment Fund.” The NDP platform promises to dedicate exactly zero more dollars to social housing, thus locking in a decade of drastic funding cuts. The BC Housing website explains that the Housing Endowment Fund “is now fully subscribed” with all future Fund monies “committed” to coming projects. The NDP’s platform does not promise anything B.C. housing was not already planning under a Liberal government.

-  Any provincial money for housing under an NDP government will not go towards specific government-funded housing but will be dedicated to “support partnerships and equity contributions” with other players, most likely the private market. Rather than building the housing needed, the housing generated through the NDP plan will be limited to projects that support the interests of private developers or which find sympathy from charities or foundations.

-  Our coalition called for three important amendments to the RTA: to give all renters rights; to freeze rents and extend rent controls to cover the unit between different tenancies, and; to make tenant unions a right. Instead of supporting renters against renovictions and homelessness, the NDP platform promises to “better protect tenants and landlords.”

Address the cause and meet the needs of the housing crisis in B.C.

The cause of the housing crisis in B.C. is found in the real estate market itself. Vancouver is home to the second most expensive housing market in the world second only to Hong Kong, where an accompanying homelessness crisis is averted because nearly half the housing is non-market social housing. A small handful of investors, speculators and developers have made a lot of money in this real estate market, but the great majority of people in B.C. are struggling thanks to their profit.

The government has had a clear role in producing this crisis by rolling back tax rates for corporations and the richest people in B.C. Two decades of this treatment has Vancouver boasting the lowest corporate tax rates in the world. Along with tax cuts, the BC Liberals also gutted social programs like social housing.

The NDP platform does not acknowledge these causes of the housing crisis. Instead, it dedicates housing money only within the framework of partnerships, which depend on collaborations with others who have interests distinct from or even opposed to the needs of communities facing housing crises. In this way, the NDP housing plan could enable and even subsidize gentrification and involuntary displacement in low-income neighbourhoods. Public-private partnerships (also called P-3s) cannot protect people from or challenge the inequalities produced by the private real estate market domination of housing and land.

The NDP platform does not address the causes of the housing crisis so it cannot meet the needs of those facing homelessness. By omission, the NDP platform trivializes the overcrowded underhousing typical for around 23,000 low-income Indigenous people living off-reserve. Five thousand people in the Downtown Eastside living in SRO hotels are promised nothing in this platform; neither are the 11,000 people who are visibly homeless throughout the province.

Where is the sense of urgency to support women, queer, trans, and young people stuck in dangerous domestic situations to find safe housing? The NDP has nothing to say to seniors and people on disability living in moldy and insecure trailer parks in towns around the province or to agricultural workers and live-in caregivers trapped in abusive work-live contracts. They are equally tight-lipped as they avert their gaze from the 40,000 people sleeping in cars and couch surfing.

The NDP lives in a different province than the B.C. where more than 50 per cent of recent migrants pay more than half their incomes to live in cramped, unhealthy and insecure apartments, and where people with HIV and AIDS are warehoused in tiny rooms that absorb the money they should be spending on healthy food. And is there any hope here for those who need reprieve from renoviction, or support for tenant rights in “supportive,” student, or temporary foreign worker housing? Not in this election.

The news is in: the 100,000 people who are living in B.C. facing homelessness are not an election issue for the NDP or BC Liberals. The homeless do not have a party.

Read the 6 demands to end the housing crisis endorsed by more than 50 organizations in B.C. on the Social Housing Coalition website: http://socialhousingbc.net

photo credit: Yolande Cole/Georgia Straight

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