Edmonton Journal: Opinion: Housing is a human right; Alberta must act like it

Posted November 25, 2021

Housing is an essential need, like food and water. Canada recognized this basic fact in 2019, enshrining housing as a human right in the National Housing Strategy Act.

So, why are so many Albertans laying awake at night wondering how they will afford their rent or mortgage?

Communities across Canada recognize Nov. 22, as National Housing Day. This year it is especially urgent that we work together to address the growing housing crisis in our communities. And it’s something almost everyone — regardless of their political stripes — can get behind. In a recent poll from Nanos Research, seven in 10 Canadians agree that urgent action is needed to address access to adequate, accessible and affordable housing.

This ongoing crisis has been deepening for decades, and has been accelerated by the pandemic. In Canada, wages have stagnated for over 40 years and we have suffered with decades of cuts to public services — including public affordable housing. Canadians living with disabilities have seen their income support shrink year over year. In major Albertan cities, the minimum wage is far below the living wage where someone can afford adequate housing.

Presently, one in three renters are concerned about their ability to pay rent next month and 24,000 Albertan households are on a waitlist for affordable housing. Combined with skyrocketing food costs, the financial pressure is keeping many Albertans from living healthy lives full of dignity and opportunity. Both the United Nations and Canada have sustainable development goals to ensure access to safe, adequate and affordable housing and basic services by 2030. Yet 500,000 Albertans currently spend more than 30 per cent of their household income on housing costs; this is unsustainable.

It is vital to address this urgent crisis before it spirals even further out of control. In our economic recovery, we cannot leave anyone behind — especially those most vulnerable to housing insecurity, including seniors, people with disabilities, immigrants, and Indigenous people.

However, the Kenney government is not stepping up to help Albertans in desperate need of affordable housing. Instead, the UCP is — yet again — giving a gift to wealthy corporations at the expense of the rest of us with the introduction of Bill 78, the Alberta Housing Amendment Act, and the release of Stronger Foundations, the province’s so-called affordable housing strategy.

The Kenney government’s strategy is to sell off or transfer public housing into profit-motivated private hands, ignoring decades of research that clearly demonstrates how public “partnerships” with private landlords result in higher costs and worse results for communities. The Alberta government’s plans will leave many more families struggling even harder to survive while boosting the already-high profit margins of the big corporate landlords.

It is well past the time to reverse course. There are immediate actions that the government can take to ease the burden faced by low- and moderate-income Albertans, and long-term steps to enshrine housing as a human right enjoyed by all.

There is currently no limit to how much a landlord can raise rent after a year of tenancy. Boardwalk-REIT and other large financialized landlords have plans to increase rents for Albertans imminently. First, the government must immediately implement a rent freeze for both current residents, and for when residents turn over in a rental unit. This freeze must be kept in place until at least the end of 2022. This will allow for Albertans to have the stability they need.

Furthermore, the provincial government must institute a moratorium on evictions; this is not only the right thing to do, but also critical for public health. Like the rent freeze, the eviction ban must extend to the end of 2022, at least.

Also, landlords should be licensed and rental units should be subject to regular public inspection to ensure the adequacy, safety and affordability of housing, and dignity of all Albertans.

Public housing dollars going to private hands and ever-increasing rents must end. With consistently low operating costs of approximately $500 or less per rental unit per month, why are the rents of the large financialized landlords so unsustainably high and increasing? And why is the Kenney government prioritizing their bottom line over the lives and dignity of Albertans?

Alberta can do so much better, starting with not leaving anyone behind. Housing is a human right. We need to act like it.

Bradley Lafortune is the executive director of Public Interest Alberta, Anne Landry is a renters and housing rights advocate in Calgary, and Dena Carver is the Calgary-Eastside chairperson for ACORN Alberta.

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Source: Edmonton Journal

 

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