As the Ontario government continues to promote private sector development as the vehicle for housing construction, community activists are calling instead for a massive plan to build public affordable housing on the basis of need.
In Brampton, on July 22, activists in the Housing for People campaign rallied outside the office of local Liberal MPP Harinder Malhi. Malhi has publicly trumpeted the Wynne government’s Non-Resident Speculation Tax (NRST), which imposes a 15% tax on non-Canadian citizens and non-permanent residents who purchase residential properties with one to six units. Introduced as a means for combating speculation, the NRST does nothing to address land speculation, which is based on commercial and large residential properties. For example, Malhi’s riding of Brampton-Springdale contains 3000 rental apartment building of five stories or more, none of which are subject to the terms of the NRST. On the other hand, nearly 13% of the residents in Brampton-Springdale are non-citizens, who are targeted by the 15% tax.
All the NRST really amounts to is a populist nod to a racist narrative that “foreigners” are responsible for the high cost and low supply of housing in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area of Ontario.
Housing for People rejects this tax, along with the government’s discredited policy that the private sector can provide affordable housing. Instead, the rally called for a massive provincial campaign to build 200,000 new affordable publicly-owned units, and to upgrade and maintain existing units. Speaker Dave McKee, leader of the Communist Party of Canada (Ontario), told the rally, “Across Ontario, there are 725,000 households in core housing need – spending more than 30% of their income on housing that is crowded or in need of major repairs. The private sector has failed to provide housing for hundreds of thousands of working class people. We need to take the profit out of housing, recognize it as a human right, and treat it like a public utility that is provided on the basis of need.”
The rally also addressed the issue of housing costs, which rose by 33% in the Greater Toronto Area last year to an average price of over $900,000. Rental costs have also risen at an alarming rate, to the point that a single bedroom apartment costs an average of $1200 in Brampton and $1800 in Toronto. Even units covered by provincial rent control legislation are subject to high increases, from landlords who use deferred maintenance costs as a Trojan Horse for above-guideline rent hikes.
The Housing for People campaign is calling for rent rollbacks, combined with strong rent control legislation to make housing affordable. McKee noted, “If you have a person drowning in a swimming pool, the solution is not to stop adding more water but to get them out of the water. For the Liberals to talk about rent control now is too little, too late – tenants are drowning in unbearable rental costs and we have to roll those back now.”
At the end of the rally, organizer Wilfred Szczesny read a statement that participants agreed to send to Malhi and all MPPs.
For more information on the Housing for People campaign, visit www.housingforpeople.ca.