If I wished to buy a small hotel in the downtown core and planned torenovate it to be used as an exclusive spa/home away from home, myefforts would be greeted with pleasure by the neighbours. If I wished to buya small hotel in the downtown core and planned to renovate it to be usedto provide much-needed affordable housing, I’d be subjected to abuse byneighbours. It doesn’t matter if the hotel was to be used to provide housingfor seniors on a fixed pension, single mothers, those living in shelters orthose coming out of prison — housing those without money is vehementlyopposed.

This opposition is rarely based on logical concerns. Instead,fears are played upon; exaggerated concerns over property values are expressed andhypocritical statements are given. The neighbours claim that they are not opposed tosocial housing but that such housing is not suitable for their community.

One of the more blatant examples of this was a successful argument atthe Ontario Municipal Board by the owners of the Air Canada Centre. They raised concerns that possible terrorist attacks made a seniorsnon-profit building unsuitable for an area that includes condos and luxuryhotels.

Not that long ago, the government of Canada argued successfullyat the Habitat II conference that housing is a human right. This is the stancethat Canada has consistently held on the global stage. Like all rights,governments have a positive requirement to ensure that these ideals arebeing met. In a practical way, this means money for a national housingprogram. It should also mean actively supporting efforts to providehousing and restricting the ability of neighbourhoods to press for exclusionof housing for lower income people from their communities.

It shouldalso mean that access to affordable housing should not be faced withbarriers that those accessing other rights and services do notface. Access to safe, affordable and decent housing should not besubjected to procedures that, at best, slow down the process of developingnew housing for the homeless, and all too often discourage affordablehousing while embracing the construction of condominiums and other forms of housing for theprivileged of our society.

We do not require a community consultation before the right to a bailhearing within 24 hours of arrest is given. We do not require a communityconsultation meeting before a human rights commission appeal is made. Wedon’t require a community consultation before someone attempts to accesshealth care under the provisions of the National Health Act. However,a series of community consultations are required if people are to beprovided safe, secure and affordable housing.

The idea that some rights aresubject to community veto is a true indication of class bias. Thosewith wealth and access to power do not have their rights — whether to healthcare or to housing or to basic civil liberties — held at the whim of others.Low income people and those otherwise marginalized do have their rightsonly to the extent that there is goodwill towards them, something thatcan be withdrawn or limited at any time.

The right to safe, secure, decent and affordable housing for all issomething that, with a bit of effort, is achievable. One per cent of thetax revenue Canada takes in would provide the resources. In recent times,much larger amounts have been cut from the tax base; a minor return tothe idea of social insurance would ensure the resources are available forall of us.

A much greater effort will be required to remove the consultation andcommunity power that interferes with and, all too often, derails newaffordable housing projects. It will require reconsideration of some of thearguments that community organizers such as the late American Saul Alinsky — and others who fought for affordable housing for low-income people — have raised about community control and community empowerment.

It requires putting human rights ahead of property rights. It can result in many whoclaim to be supporting new housing being forced to choose which side theyare really on — process or justice-based compassion.