07/14/2017 09:24 EDT | Updated 07/14/2017 09:24 EDT

Affordable Housing Is A Human Right

Today's housing crisis cuts across all parts of Canadian society.

Housing is a fundamental human right. I learned this lesson in my 20s when my wife and I opened a home to help the growing number of homelessness on the streets of Toronto. While my friends were finishing university and starting careers I was getting a major crash course into the issues of homelessness, addiction, prison and what it means to fall through the cracks of Canada's safety net.

I never forgot those lessons. And what I have seen in my years in politics is how much worse the situation has become. We have been fed a tiresome Liberal/Conservative mantra that things will always be better if you get government "out of the way." That was the spin given by Paul Martin when he walked away on the federal government's role in public housing. The result has been a feeding feast for speculators while the poor, working class and even middle class families have been pushed to the margins.

Today's housing crisis cuts across all parts of Canadian society. In cities like Toronto, you see neighbourhoods that once had a vibrant mixture of working- and middle-class families being hollowed out by massive real estate speculation and turned into the investment properties of the super-rich. Young families are being forced out of their communities or being reduced to real estate poverty in order to hold onto urban jobs.

In rural areas, seniors can't downsize from their old properties because the waiting list for existing seniors' buildings is impossibly long. All across northern reserves, we have children growing up in overcrowded, mouldy homes. Canada can and must do better.

The fact is, it's possible to end homelessness. We can deal with the crisis of substandard housing on reserves and ensure that young families can live in quality housing in the communities where they work. What is needed is a government with vision and the willingness to make a concrete improvement in the lives of Canadians. It's time we had a government willing to step in where the private sector has so obviously failed.

The federal government needs to act boldly to ensure that access to housing is a fundamental human right. This isn't just a basic act of human dignity, it's about smart investments that will save the system all manner of costs from policing, health care and abuse issues.

If I am elected NDP leader, I will be in Parliament this fall pushing Justin Trudeau to step aside from his support for the financiers and hedge fund operators and stand up for ordinary Canadians. He has the tools at his finger tips. Thanks to a massive surplus from the publicly-owned CMHC, the federal government is sitting on a $4-billion dividend this year, with expected annual returns of $500 million in the future. Is Justin Trudeau going to use this money to pay for more giant rubber ducks and military missions, or will he put the money into making sure every Canadian has a home?

If we invest $1.1 billion a year in a new national housing benefit, we can help nearly one million low-income Canadians move into secure, affordable homes. I'll also push for an Affordable Housing Initiative Credit. For $150 million, we can make available nearly 5,000 new private affordable housing units every year.

The federal government must also reinvest in existing social housing, a responsibility it has avoided for decades. By doing this we can preserve existing units and build thousands of new homes and new supportive housing units for those with special needs every year.

Solutions designed in Ottawa aren't going to be enough on their own. I will make it a priority to work with municipal and provincial governments across this country to support local solutions adapted to their needs.

By realizing a right to housing, we are also saving our system billions and helping improve lives.

This is where the role of expanding co-operative housing is so vital. It is a model of mixed-income housing that has been proven successful across Canada. I am also interested in emerging models like land trusts that have delivered housing through community ownership in British Columbia. This is about building liveable cities, liveable communities.

By working together, we can end homelessness in Canada.

A dollar invested into residential construction creates $1.52 in economic growth as well as new jobs. Homelessness costs a staggering $7 billion dollars every year through shelter costs, emergency services and the justice system. By realizing a right to housing, we are also saving our system billions and helping improve lives.

When I started working with the homeless in Toronto, I never thought I would have the opportunity to realize a dream of a Canada where everybody has a home. That dream is in reach now. Let's make it a reality.

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