Thursday, February 14, 2013

NLers stuggle with housing crisis; Cleary joins chorus for National Housing Strategy

I gave the following speech in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Feb. 13th.
Mr. Speaker,
A housing forum was held in my riding of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl in September.
Before the forum began, a woman in a wheelchair handed the 3 New Democrat MPs in attendance a sheet of paper.
The paper contained 5 words – family, shelter, food, career and health.
The woman asked each of us to take a moment to visualize what each word meant in our lives – family, shelter, food, career and health.
Then she asked us to take a pen and eliminate one.
“You have no choice,” the woman said.
“It has to go.”
Then we had to eliminate a second one.
Then a third.
I can tell you this – they were tough choices.
Even hypothetically, the choices were impossible.
I eliminated career first, then my own health, then food.
I was left with family and shelter.
I remember the exercise leaving me with a feeling of desperation.  
The woman said the point of the exercise was for us –MPs – to imagine it, the desperation.
Her point was she LIVES it.
That was a powerful point.
Mr. Speaker, there is a housing crisis – even in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the economy is booming.
Just this week there are stories in the news back home about two men struggling to meet housing costs in a boomtown.
Rental costs have gone up by 18 per cent in the St. John’s area over the past four years, which translates into some people struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
According to the Newfoundland and Labrador Single Parents’ Association, rent for a three-bedroom unit four or five years ago was around the $650-a-month mark.
Now it’s up to $1,100 to $1,300.
So from $650 a month up to $1,300 a month in four or five years.
People are having a hard time coping with that.
In many cases they’re not coping – their income is constant, their rent isn’t.
The stories in the news back home this week are about how 2 men – a single father with a young daughter getting by on workers’ comp, and a single man making minimum wage – how these two men are having an incredibly hard time getting by because of the rent.
The man on workers’ comp has a total income – including his daughter’s baby bonus – of $1,479.
His rent, alone, is $1,200.
So he has $279 for everything else.
His daughter doesn’t take a lunch to school – there’s no money for that.
The other man – the single guy on minimum wage – heats only one room in his apartment and hangs blankets in the doorways to keep in the heat.
And his rent is going up March 1 by another $75.
Where will that money come from?
So right now that original list of five choices – food, shelter, health, family and career – has a very real face, a desperate face.
I remember during the 2011 federal election knocking on the homes of senior who would often come to their doors in coats and jackets.
They wore costs and jackets inside their homes, because they couldn’t afford to turn on the heat.
Rents are continually increasing, and for people on fixed incomes – seniors, for example – that means something has to suffer.
Food, heat, medications – seniors often don’t buy the medicines they need, these are the types of choices they’re forced to make.
Labrador City is another boomtown.
The mining industry – iron ore specifically – is doing very well, but the vacancy rate is practically zero.
The local college offers a mining course that practically guarantees employment, but classes aren’t full because there’s no place for students to live.
We heard stories about how women remain in abusive relationships because there’s nowhere else for them to go.
Mr. Speaker, I also visited Fort McMurray, Alberta last year.
That’s another place that’s booming, with average incomes in the patch of $100,000 and average family incomes of $180,000 a year.
But the cost of rent is astronomical.
A new, three-bedroom home with a double-car garage and an unregistered apartment can go for between $700,000 and $900,000.
So you could only imagine the cost of rental units.
Meantime, income threshold for low-income housing is about $80,000 a year.
Mr. Speaker, there is a housing crisis in St. John’s, in Labrador, in Albert, across Canada.
Canada is the only G8 country without a National Housing Strategy, which is what this bill Bill C-400 is all about.
It costs no money.
It simply requires the minister responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to work in collaboration with the provincial ministers responsible for housing, representatives of municipalities, aboriginal communities, and housing providers in the non-profit and private sector.
It requires all of these groups to work together to establish a National Housing Strategy.
How does that NOT make sense?
That’s smart governance.
Between 300,000 and 400,000 Canadians are homeless no place to live.
Three million Canadians live in housing insecurity – including 27,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and almost 9,300 in St. John’s alone.
The Conservatives will say, the Conservatives have said, that their commitment to safe and suitable and affordable housing has helped over 755,000 Canadians since 2006.
They claim that their investment in housing has led to the creation of 46,000 affordable housing units.
At the same time, waiting lists across the country for social housing are consistently getting longer and vacancy rates are dropping to record lows – everywhere.
Bruce Pearce of the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing and Homelessness network has described this bill as a “life-saving bill.”
He says Atlantic Canada would be hardest hit by the absence of a national housing strategy because there are fewer support networks in rural communities.
There may be loads of shelters in downtown Toronto but not so in downtown Mount Pearl or places like it.
Mr. Speaker, in areas of Canada that are doing well, where the economy is sizzling, the poorest people are suffering.
Because of the increased cost of living, increased rents,  increased everything across the board.
There was a story in the news recently back home of how 30 tenants of a low-income apartment building in St. John’s were worried they’ll soon be homeless.
Their building is going to be redeveloped into condominiums.
They have until the end of April to move out.
It won’t be easy for those 30 families to find another place to live.
Here’s what one of the tenants had to say: “Every time they put up the rent, that’s less food you have every month, or it’s a light bill you can’t pay.”
Mr. Speaker, let’s bring this back full circle family, shelter, career, food and health.
Which ones can you live without family, shelter, career, food and health.
We’re imagining it, but there are people living it.
Maybe living isn’t the right word – existing may be a more fitting term.
It’s those people that Bill C-400 is designed to help.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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