Royal City Record: Rally for housing draws crowd

New Westminister Healthy Homes rally.The local chapter of ACORN Canada organized a Stand for Housing rally in Uptown New Westminster on Jan. 12 to highlight the need for housing.

"What we are demonstrating for is to be able to build 10,000 units of good-quality, social housing per year here in the Lower Mainland," said Noel Ouellette, one of the event's organizers. "Obviously that number will never be realized but we can be hopeful. Our priorities are social housing units."

Ouellette said the priority is to ensure there's adequate social housing for seniors, migrants, women, people with disabilities, vulnerable low-income people, and people at risk of homelessness or hidden homelessness.

"What we are trying to do is let people know we are in a crisis here for housing; affordable clean housing," he said. "Right now there are not many places where low-income people can get affordable housing that is clean."

According to Ouellette, people who are on social assistance are hard pressed to find affordable housing that doesn't have cockroaches, mice and other problems.

Ouellette, who knows what it's like to live on a disability benefit, has been a member of ACORN for about seven years.

"I am very lucky to have found housing that I can afford," he said. "There's a lot out there that are not as fortunate as I am."

In addition to creating more affordable housing, Ouellette said ACORN also believes there's also a need to save the existing low-rent housing by ensuring that maintenance standards are enforced.

"People move out. They give it a quick coat of paint and they raise the rent," he said. "It becomes unaffordable for people."

Community members and local politicians joined ACORN members at Saturday's rally at Sixth and Sixth, where they handed out leaflets and rallied for housing. ACORN members plan to continue rallying in the leadup to the provincial election in the spring.

"We are letting them know (about) the housing situation in the Lower Mainland," Ouellette said. "They are building a whole lot of condos - it just isn't affordable for people on disability and low incomes."

The New Westminster Homelessness Coalition has also supported "stands for homelessness," which are one-to two-hour peaceful protests against homelessness that are held to draw attention to the need for housing.

New Westminster resident Dave Brown was among the residents attending Saturday's Stand for Housing.

"We need housing," he said of his reason for participating in the rally. "New Westminster has stepped up to the plate, but we can't wipe off our brow and say, 'phew.'"