Thursday Nov 14

Northern Light: Canadian Housing Policy is Coming from Local Fights, Not National or Political Action

As housing prices continue to rise, and the effects of the housing crisis are felt by people with higher and higher incomes, you can’t go a day without hearing about horror stories and people and groups trying to do something about it. And loyal Social Policy readers can’t go a half year without having me write about it! I apologize, but other than training organizers, watching the Toronto Raptors (WORLD CHAMPS!), and taking care of my two year old son, I know little else these days. While the country waits for the Trudeau government’s long-awaited National Housing Strategy to have any consequence on people’s lives, there are some positive signs that offer a glimmer of hope.

ACORN’s National Convention was in Hamilton, Ontario this past summer. Homes over Profit was the slogan of the convention and as members gathered they were all reminded how the housing issues they all face at home, were shared by members across the Canada.

In tune with this ACORN Canada’s National Board passed new planks on their national platform that directly confront the roles banks and REIT’s have in the displacement and gentrification in working class neighbourhoods.

ACORN is now pushing federal parties in advance of the fall federal election to regulate financial actors (landlords, REITs and investors) to ensure that they uphold their obligations to tenants where they own or invest in properties and consider the financial interest and protection of their tenants in their business plans.

Of course the local fights continue.

On the Sunday of convention 175 ACORN members spread out over targeted wards across the city to gather support for Hamilton ACORN’s local Resist Renoviction Campaign, which continues to gather steam in Canada’s Steeltown. A couple weeks after the convention ended, Hamilton City Council unanimously passed a ban on any city redevelopment grants going to projects that displace tenants. Next up for Hamilton is a vote at council to get staff to explore ways that the city can ban renovations altogether. With the municipal powers of licensing and registration of businesses, coupled with the zoning and permitting powers they have, ACORN and a growing list of councillors are certain there is a made-in-Hamilton solution to tenant displacement.

The most concrete changes in the country are happening in British Columbia where ACORN’s campaign to stop demovictions led to the downfall of the long serving mayor of Burnaby and ACORN’s appointment to the Burnaby Rental Housing Taskforce. The taskforce findings were released last month, and ACORN’s proposals are now on the council agenda with the Mayor’s backing to potentially create the most tenant friendly city in Canada, if not North America.

Some of the potential breakthroughs are stunning!

A tenant in a building being redeveloped will get a similar sized unit in the new building at the same rent. During the construction time the developer will have to top up the tenant’s rent so they can find a temporary unit in the neighbourhood and not pay more. This would mean payouts in rent supplements of over $20,000 before the tenant moves into the new building at the same rent they were paying before. Another is that developers will be forced to build rental housing designed for families, and not just sell the more lucrative one bedroom condos. The city has even developed a way using covenants to ensure that all new rental units will be vacancy rent controlled, something the current NDP government in BC is balking at doing.

What is happening in Burnaby really flies in the face of all rationales given by politicians for why we can’t fix the housing issues. Progressive municipal slates like Vision and OneCity in Vancouver, the BCA in Burnaby, Projet Montréal, or any ramshackled liberal coalition in Toronto are all left looking cowardly, daft, middle class, and in the pockets of the developers. Their plans do little to nothing for working class tenants.

Here's to fighting to make sure the policies like what we are winning in Burnaby become the norm in Canadian cities, and not an anomaly.

John Anderson is the Field Director for ACORN Canada. Since 2004 John has helped to develop the ACORN Canada operations in Toronto, Ontario, and British Columbia. He is a graduate of the University of Winnipeg.

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