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02/04/2019 12:15 EST | Updated 02/04/2019 12:18 EST

We Need Concrete Solutions To Fix Canada's Affordable Housing Crisis

Governments across Canada need to recognize the housing crisis all around us

A tent city homeless camp in downtown Nanaimo, B.C., is seen on Sept. 22, 2018.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A tent city homeless camp in downtown Nanaimo, B.C., is seen on Sept. 22, 2018.

The tent city in Nanaimo, B.C., where many of the city's homeless could once find shelter, was appropriately dubbed "Discontent City."

At its peak, between 300 and 350 people lived there in tents and under tarps, their few belongings seemingly constantly soaked, and the mud outside sometimes ankle deep.

We should all be discontented by such a situation, in Nanaimo or anywhere. Across Canada, we are seeing more and more tent cities pop up, and local and provincial governments struggling to deal with the crisis.

The solution seems obvious: build more affordable housing. There is more that can be done, however, including by the labour movement.

It shouldn't be too much to expect that people in this country have a decent place to live and a job that makes getting that possible.

For too many, however, that seems to be just out of reach.

Even with a slight decline in housing prices in many cities over the past year, buying a house is getting harder and harder. In Vancouver, for instance, an average house goes for more than $1 million.

According to federal government guidelines, you need a down payment of more than $216,000 to buy that home, and an income of $175,000 to qualify for the mortgage — or more than four times the average individual income in Canada of just over $38,000.

Watch: The extreme measures Canadians go through to buy a home. Blog continues below.

We Need Concrete Solutions To Fix Canada's Affordable Housing

No wonder I hear young people tell me matter-of-factly that they will never own a house. No wonder that financial insecurity is a big reason women stay in abusive relationships.

With rents likewise reaching ridiculous levels — an average of more than $1,300 a month in both Vancouver and Toronto for a one-bedroom apartment — saving any money at all for a down payment, let alone more than $200,000, seems like a cruel joke in an era of skyrocketing student debt and an increasingly precarious and gig-economy job market.

According to the 2016 census, almost 40 per cent of renters spent more than 30 per cent of their income on rent — about twice what homeowners spend. When so much goes to rent, saving become more difficult.

Without a concerted effort, I can't see the situation getting any better any time soon. Instead, sadly, the situation is just getting worse as the gap between rich and poor gets wider and more insurmountable. Already, the wealthiest in Canada make 10 times what the average Canadian earns in a year — $381,000, compared with just $38,700 for the average Canadian.

The fact is, home ownership in Canada is in decline for the first time in decades as young people find themselves priced out of the market.

Governments across Canada need to recognize the housing crisis all around us. Homelessness has been in the news recently and record-cold temperatures showed just how desperate many of our most vulnerable citizens are, but the problem won't go away as the temperature rises.

We need real solutions and concrete plans to build more affordable housing. Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau has said the Liberal government is looking for ways to make home-buying more affordable for millennials. This is good to hear, but we need to see the details of what is planned.

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Beyond that, the labour movement has a big role to play, as well. We need to stand up for good jobs, the ones we have and the ones we want to attract to Canada. My own union is doing this, evident in our fight to keep General Motors in Oshawa and the good jobs that go along with it.

Outside the workplace, we need to fight for better labour laws in this country so more workers can organize and improve working conditions in their own workplaces — thereby boosting their chances to afford a decent home.

We must push governments to increase minimum wages and to address the inequities of the gig economy, such as the laws recently repealed by the right-wing Doug Ford government in Ontario. Putting up $100,000 signs at the border reading "Open for Business" while factories close, as is happening in Ontario, just won't cut it.

Our young people, precariously housed and precariously employed, deserve better.

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