Parties vague on housing policy

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What are provincial politicians going to do about poorly housed Manitobans?

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/04/2016 (2489 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

What are provincial politicians going to do about poorly housed Manitobans?

One-third of Manitoba renters spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing and live in overcrowded and/or unsafe housing conditions. Others do not have housing at all, as demonstrated by the 2015 street census that counted at least 1,400 homeless people living in Winnipeg.

When governments build housing and provide necessary supports, low-income people experience improved health, education and employment outcomes. Communities experience increased stability and safety. Public-sector investment is needed as the market on its own has proven it cannot provide sufficient housing for low-income people. If governments do not act, they exacerbate systemic social issues, colonialism, privilege and inequity. This affects us all, whether we acknowledge it or not. To do nothing is unjust and prevents people from escaping the cycle of poverty.

Housing supply and demand must be considered to make serious gains for the most vulnerable people. The supply of housing available to lower-income Manitobans is insufficient, and the housing available to rent is not affordable for those who need it the most. On the demand side, low-income people require income supports to access housing.

The Right to Housing Coalition, along with Make Poverty History Manitoba, worked hard to advance the need for rent supplements set at 75 per cent of median market rent. The provincial government responded with the creation of Rent Assist, an income benefit available to those on social assistance and the working poor. Even with gains made by the current NDP government through the maintenance of existing units, new capital builds and rental-support programs, thousands of rental households remain in core housing need.

Provincially, the Right to Housing Coalition has set a minimum public policy goal of 300 net new, rent-geared-to-income (RGI) units per year for the next five years.

The “net” is important because, although new RGI units are being built, other units are being torn down, converted to condos or non-profit providers are forced to raise rents as federal operating grants expire. It is also important to realize 300 units is not going to come close to meeting the need.

Consider that the End Homelessness Winnipeg project goal is 300 new units just to house the city’s homeless. There is also housing needed for youth coming out of care, people migrating to the cities from rural and northern Manitoba, and seniors no longer able to afford their current housing (be it owned or rented). There are also large families of refugees for which it is almost impossible to find affordable four- and five-bedroom housing.

Given these realities, 1,000 new units per year would not be too many. However, Right to Housing has always maintained housing is not just a provincial responsibility, and we have held (and continue to hold) the federal government responsible for funding at least a two-thirds share of the housing needed.

What can Manitoba’s provincial political parties do to solve these problems?

Right to Housing is asking them to publicly state their housing-policy intentions before Manitobans go to the polls April 19. We challenge them to address the growing housing shortage with significant, community-led and comprehensive strategies.

It is promising political parties are responding to community concerns regarding low-income housing. At the Make Poverty History Manitoba electoral debate March 23, the Liberals, NDP, and PCs all committed to continuing Rent Assist. The Greens said they would end Rent Assist and instead provide support through a level of guaranteed income.

If elected, the NDP and Greens agreed to create 300 net new RGI units of housing per year. The Liberals and PCs agreed more social housing was needed but did not commit to any specifics. Only the NDP has specified how much it would invest to maintain the public housing stock in good repair. The available details on how each of the parties would implement these commitments vary.

The parties have publicly shared components of housing policies but aspects remain unclear. Notably, the parties have not all stated they will maintain existing public units in good repair. When the question was put to them March 23, all candidates stated their parties would not sell off public housing to the private sector, as other jurisdictions have done. This would make these assets no longer available to benefit the public good.

The Right to Housing Coalition is asking all parties to commit long-term to the future of housing in Manitoba. It is important to press all parties for clarity and action. Ask your politicians what their party plans to do about Manitoba’s poorly housed people. Following the election, Right to Housing will continue to hold the provincial government responsible for its action or inaction.

The Right to Housing Coalition is a volunteer, non-partisan, secular housing-advocacy coalition made up of volunteers, 60 supporting organizations and more than 275 individual members.

Clark Brownlee is the co-ordinator of the Right to Housing Coalition and a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives research associate.

Laura Rempel is the chairwoman of the Right to Housing Coalition’s provincial working group and a policy co-ordinator at the Canadian Community Economic Development Network Manitoba.

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