Our housing crisis is a feature of the austerity agenda—not a flaw


THE SO-CALLED ‘MAGIC OF THE MARKET’ FAILED AGAIN. We still have a housing crisis more than 10 years after the 2008 meltdown of the world economy—something the universal application of an austerity agenda was supposed to fix. Letting the so-called “free market” fix things only made matters worse.

Average housing prices have grown by 80% Canada-wide since their lows in the winter of 2009, and more than doubled in Vancouver and Toronto.

According to a new study, low-income workers cannot afford rent in 91% of all Canadian cities. Low-income here is described as $15 an hour or less.

High rents create ‘no go zones’

Across Canada, the average wage needed to access affordable housing options is a staggering $22 hourly for a two bedroom apartment and $20 for a one bedroom, far above the minimum wage of anywhere in the country. It’s much worse in Toronto and Vancouver.

People in Vancouver need to make at least $35 an hour to afford rent, while in Toronto it is an even steeper $33 an hour. In all of the 70 neighborhoods looked at in Vancouver, not a single one was deemed affordable to a low-income earner.

Being frozen out is bad enough. How it makes you feel is even worse. Vancouver and Toronto were recently found to be the two loneliest, unhappy cities in all of Canada. One in four people in Vancouver said they feel lonely, with some people going as far to call their hometown a “soulless city.”

But how could this be? Vancouver and Toronto both rank highly in livability indexes quality of life, right? Shouldn’t the most livable cities in the world be loved and celebrated by their citizens? Shouldn’t the last word used to describe Vancouver be “soulless?”

Who decides what is ‘livable’

The issue here is this: city planning and housing markets have fallen under the control of big developers and the rich. The “livability” criteria doesn’t address the issues of regular, everyday working people because the criteria are not designed by regular people, and neither are the cities themselves.

We understand that unfettered, so-called “free markets” aren’t always the best way to get the social good we need and want—like health care, for example. But that’s not how we see housing—even though we agree that it too is a social good.

Private sector players dominate the housing market. This has led to a proliferation of lies and untruths about how housing works.

If markets are so efficient why do our government’s give millions in tax breaks to wealthy private developers to build giant luxury condos? Why aren’t our governments building affordable non-market housing, or asking why developers have to tear down whole neighbourhoods full of affordable housing.

The big lie is that more housing is good housing—never mind that any urban economist knows that increasing the supply of luxury housing won’t affect demand in the affordable housing market.

Municipal governments also have an incentive to favour big developers, because pushing out regular residents in favour of expensive towers means higher property taxes for the city—should they ever decide to enforce those taxes. Often times these developments are given a decade to be free of property taxes, leaving the public to make up for the lost revenue.

Affordable, healthy and human

The monopoly that the wealthy private sector holds over our discussions of housing must end. Working class communities in Canada do not deserve to have their neighborhoods uprooted. We must demand our right to have cities be “people places” where all can afford to live.

Giant luxury condo developments and expensive “eateries” catering to the rich business class, championsip basketball teams and ritzy shopping districts don’t make cities great—people make cities great.

It’s the hard work and community of the people living in cities that make cities “livable.” We need to stop letting free market fundamentalism dictate the direction of our housing policies and start creating cities by and for the people again: affordable, healthy, and above all, human.

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