Opposition Housing Outrage is Perplexing
On December 8, the outrage in the legislature by the official opposition over the missing $9 million unspent dollars on social housing made for some great theatre and political hay. During that sitting, the opposition protested the King government for failing to spend $9.4 million of last year’s allocation towards social housing, in exchange for paving roads.
The problem is, neither Greens nor Conservatives believe in true “social housing”. These parties have misconstrued the meaning of those words. Minister Hudson continues this mischaracterization by thinking social housing is the provision of rent supplements in privately -owned buildings and Hannah Bell, it appears, is happy to join in the misleading narrative. Social housing traditionally is aimed at creating housing that is publicly owned and maintained on a non-profit basis and which can weather volatile market fluctuations. This was traditionally funded federally but was abandoned by the Chrétien government in the 1990s. Since then, the only area in which PEI governments have seen fit to develop any public housing units is in the area of seniors’ housing.
Mr. Bevan Baker’s line of questioning appears noble, but in fact, the King government, by a small margin, has proposed more true social housing than the Greens. In 2019 King promised 100 public housing units of which some would be for families and non-senior singles, while the Green Party has never independently proposed public investment in non-profit housing for anyone. In fact, publicly owned housing was conspicuously absent from the Greens’ 2019 election platform. Green MLA Hannah Bell also spoke to social housing concerns on Tuesday, but her released Integrated Housing Framework from 2018 has no mention of social or not-for-profit housing. Ms Bell, it appears, prefers to believe that the market will solve our problems. In a 2018 Vice article she stated that ” the government needs to remove as many barriers as possible for developers “and then get the hell out of the way.””
The Green Party is not alone in a lack-of-focus on publicly funded housing. Successive Liberal and Conservative governments have relied on developers to provide what they call “affordable” housing. Recently, this has been done through a suggested loan agreement period. Unfortunately, developers can pay and exit this agreement early and return to the high rental market prices. This pales in comparison to the 38,000 non-profit housing units being built under 60 year agreements in British Columbia.
We only have to look in the Charlottetown core to see the benefits of the government investments of 40-50 years ago. Multiple co-op and public housing units not only still provide essential shelter to low-income earners, but they were built in high-density, accessible areas which create viable livable communities.
But, unfortunately, market based projects, not public investments are the focus of this legislature.
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