Homelessness and Affordable housing

Stephen LaFrenie

First and foremost it is imperative that the right to safe shelter be included in the Canadian constitution. Access to the security of a permanent residence, a home, is a human right not a reward to be handed out through financial speculation. Anyone who works deserves to own a home if they choose.

We have to bust the myth held by those in society, our neighbourhoods as to what a homeless person looks like. Most people think only of the person sleeping over a sewer cover or begging on the street. Regardless of prejudices within society it is the moral duty of the state to provide safe shelter when it is needed. The Federal government can play a strong role in providing these spaces where the Provincial and municipal governments are either unable or unwilling. I think there is ample possibility for the federal government to step in and show leadership through the purchase of delinquent housing, converting it into safe haven dormitories and affordable housing without there being a big outcry from the cities or communities. There is a dysfunctional attitude within the three levels of government that includes buck passing and misinformation. This has to stop and that is where leadership comes in. If a Provincial government were to lead the way then the Federal Government’s job would be to follow and provide support where needed. If a municipality leads the way then both provincial and federal levels should follow in suit. Where the provincial and municipalities either shirk their responsibilities or don’t have the funding then the federal government must step in and show leadership by breaking the dysfunctional chain. The homeless people we don’t talk enough about are not so visible. They are working people who still cannot afford decent shelter despite having jobs. This is reprehensible and a mark of failure in Canadian society.

We need to expand the number of and capacity of emergency shelters within our communities as a priority in the short term. We don't have to build more but instead expand and support the present cooperation between churches, community centres, schools, etc. Local churches of all denominations can and do designate certain churches located within the areas where homeless people have quickest access. Local government can do the same with community centres and education boards can do the same with school facilities which would be used in extreme weather conditions. This would accommodate persons who have psychiatric conditions or issues of trust that prevent them from seeking regular shelter as we cannot force people into shelters on a semi-permanent basis so this allows for them to seek protection when the need is greatest. Past government proposals to place homeless people under arrest is a disgusting marker of how dysfunctional we have become in this area. Another short term measure, (while the larger dilemma of homelessness is being worked on), is the building of or conversion of existing buildings as safe dormitory hostels where homeless people can register and have access to a bed without having to return every night to claim an empty one. My brother lived on the streets for years and for years while staying at a Salvation Army shelter, could not come home at Christmas or any other time for that matter because he was afraid of losing his bed. He had to return every night by 11:00 pm. or he would be out on the street. This is wrong.

In the medium and long term we can address the problem of homelessness with affordable housing which both the Green and NDP parties have superior policies to that of the other parties. Real estate speculation fuels the homeless rate by artificially inflating the price of land and homes. Banks contribute to homelessness with policies that discriminate against middle and lower income families. The house I live in was originally bought by my roommate. He and his partner at the time had a household income over $25,000.00 but barely qualified for a mortgage to buy a dilapidated old workhouse. He was informed by a new bank manager that if it had been up to him my roommate would never have qualified despite the fact that the mortgage was lower than the rent he and his partner had been paying for years and they had no problem with the down payment. The government needs to step in to secure and reserve land within municipalities dedicated to affordable houses. Where banks deny mortgages based on arbitrary numbers the government is free to step in and offer financing at lower mortgage rates and/or without down payment requirements. After all a down payment is an artificial concept to satisfy the narrow parameters of the bank and does not truly reflect the ability of a person to maintain mortgage payments.

Some of the Green party resolutions passed at the 2006 convention.

G06-p35: National Affordable Housing Program BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Green Party of Canada will advocate a National Affordable Housing Program to include:
- Capital grants to make possible the production of 20,000 new and 10,000 rehabilitated affordable units per year for ten years; changes in tax and mortgage insurance regulations to increase the level of private and non-profit sector housing construction;
- Programs of rent supplements or shelter assistance for an additional 40,000 low income households per year, for ten years;
- Reorienting Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation programs to provide credit and loan guarantees to non-profit housing organizations and cooperatives for the building and restoration of quality, energy-efficient housing for seniors, people with special-needs, and low-income families;
- Acting to support communities directly where provinces are unable to participatein expanding the housing supply;
- Dedicating funding to the co-operative housing sector within all new affordable housing plans;
- Supporting energy audits and education around energy efficiency as a priority, so that low-income households will have the tools they need to reduce their energy consumption and contribute to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Amending Section 38 of the Income Tax Act by extending the Act’s provisions to include gifts of lands, or of land and buildings, to community land trusts as 14 charities whose sole and lasting purpose is to provide affordable housing to families and individuals in need;
- Encouraging innovative projects where people do things like organize their own equity co-ops and co-housing, including the rehabilitation of old buildings.
- Expanding the R-4000 housing programs to ensure that all new housing meets that standard, and offer support to those owners willing to revamp existing housing to meet the same standard;
- Subsidizing alternative heating systems including solar, geothermal, and high efficiency wood stoves.
- Improving support for community based self-help groups, social service agencies, independent living centers and advocacy projects.
- Subsidizing private developers to include a percentage of affordable housing in their housing projects.

You may disagree with individual elements of these resolutions but as a whole combined with proposals by the NDP form the necessary basis to correct a grave dysfunction in Canadian society.

This blog reflects my personal opinion.
It is not official Green Party Policy.