Let's accelereate progress on housing and economic inequality

In the last few weeks we have seen the Parkdale community transition it’s built up frustration at landlord bullying, lack of accountability for repair requests and disregard for health and safety to a successful community organization.  Parkdale Organize! is focused on ensuring completion of necessary repairs in the approximate 1,200 MetCap units and most importantly on stopping the above board rent increase requests.  Legally landloards can apply to the Landloard and Tenant Board (LTB) to increase rents above the annual guidelines under specific conditions.

This is a great example of successful citizen engagement at the grassroots.  It has neighbours banding together to fight a landlord of greater wealth to maintain their economic access to housing.  With 200 tenants currently participating, over $20,000 in funds raised to support tenants, and an effort to add new tenant strikers in June, one can see the potential for success. 

With this possible victory, it is important not to forget the issue is much larger than MetCap’s requests for above board rent increases.  The issue is about economic access to housing for working class individuals who are not benefiting from meteoric rises in property values. Instead they are relying on stagnant incomes to make ends meet. 

Recognizing this, Ontario has put forth a long-term affordable housing strategy that includes a number of meaningful initiatives aimed at increasing access.  These efforts range from proposed legislation giving municipalities the option of requiring affordable housing units as part of residential developments to an investment of $178 million over 3 years on a variety of initiatives including $100 million in supportive housing and $17 million to pilot a portable housing benefit.  These efforts are enhanced by the recent introduction of the Rental Fairness Act, 2017 which if passed, would extend rent control to all private rental units, including those occupied on of after November 1991. 

These are meaningful initiatives that deserve to be applauded.  That being said, they are light years away from changing the game.

On the housing front, we are not directly addressing market driven gentrification, nor the market based elimination of lower cost units in favour of higher margin or profit units.  We are also not addressing the ability of landlords to exponentially increase rents for new tenants and the systemic pressure they apply to encourage tenants to vacate.  And most importantly, we are not meaningfully addressing market based economic inequality that has close to half of Canadians living paycheque to paycheque.

These are complex issues and the solutions are not easy.  That being said, it seems we are increasingly playing catch up.  We are plugging one leaky hole only to realize that ten others have popped up in the meantime. 

Let’s challenge ourselves to ask how might we get ahead of the curve and make meaningful progress on the goal outlined in Ontario’s poverty reduction strategy: “to create a province where every person has the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential and contribute in a prosperous and healthy Ontario”

What specific and measurable goals should we be setting with regards to economic inequality and access to housing?

What mechanisms of participatory budgeting can we introduce to ensure that we are spending collective funds in a way that most benefits our society? 

And crucially important, what measures of accountability should be introduced to ensure that we make meaningful progress?