04/03/2017 05:50 EDT | Updated 04/03/2017 05:50 EDT

Social Housing Is Not A Priority In Liberals' Quebec Budget

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Vector concept of investment in real estate like townhouse

After two years of major cuts to AccèsLogis, the Quebec Liberals announced yesterday that its 2017-2018 budget will restore funding to social housing to its previous levels (3000 units per year). While we are happy that AccèsLogis -- the only program that allows for the construction of social housing in Québec -- was not cut further this year, our delight stops there.

Just in Côte-des-Neiges, 5 060 households (about 15% of tenants) dedicate more than 80% of their income to housing, according to the 2011 census. In a city where rent just keeps on increasing, housing is an integral part of human dignity.

Several of us have firsthand experience paying 80% or even 90% of our income towards rent. After being on a waiting list for many years, some of us found social housing and it brought us the strict minimum everyone should have in their life: a stable home. And so we fight for social housing for everyone who needs it.

When you can't afford your rent, you don't eat or you don't eat well. You are forced to live in bad housing conditions. Your life feels broken. Social housing is a long term solution to a myriad of social problems. Plus, it makes financial sense: a 2013 study by the Société d'habitation du Québec called Étude d'impact des activités de la SHQ found that for every dollar the government invests in social housing, $2.30 is injected into the economy.

And yet, the government's austerity cuts have slashed AccèsLogis over and over. The construction of social housing was halved, from 3 000 units in 2014-2015 to 1 500 social housing units per year for the last two years. Temporary private market rent subsidies were announced instead, subsidies that are poor replacements for social housing. In addition, the amounts allocated per unit for AccèsLogis has been maintained at the same level as 2009, which makes it difficult to build social housing according to the 2017 real estate prices and construction costs. Even as they announce the same number of units, they're making cuts.

In a province where nearly 230 000 households dedicate more than 50% of their income to rent (2011 census), the 3000 units announced for this year are peanuts. Social housing is a long term solution to poverty.

When people have access to safe, affordable and stable housing, many social problems disappear. Not only does human suffering decline when the human right to housing is respected, but the use of public services such as (healthcare, eldercare, food banks, shelters, social services) declines as well.

This Tuesday, the government had an opportunity to stand up for those who need it most. They had the money to do better and to make an important headway towards ending, once and for all, the housing crisis for people on a fixed income.

The government brags about its $2.3 billion surplus, which was accumulated with measures that hurt poor people the most -- measures such as the health tax, the Hydro Quebec increases, and cuts to health and social services. In fact, many of the problems this budget tries to address, from poverty and exclusion to hospital wait times, were aggravated by policies of austerity of previous years. Tax cuts are no compensation for the suffering austerity has caused poor people in our province.

In the coming years, we hope the liberal government continues further down this path, and re-invests massively in our social security net, because health problems, joblessness and poverty can happen to anyone. Politicians should stop pretending they know what it is like to be poor while in the same breath announcing cuts to services that barely allow us to survive. We want a province where all can live comfortably and in peace, with leaders who truly take to heart the situations of poor people.

Written by Myrtle Anderson, Mohamed Benkiran, Odette Bougie, Kurt John, Sriyani Marceline, Sheetal Pathak, Nalawattage T. Pinto, and Eleanor Smith, who are all members of the Housing Rights Committee of Project Genesis.

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