"Making housing a human right" - New Democratic Party shows its colours at conference on housing crisis
The tone was quickly set at the conference "What's behind the housing crisis?” held by the Pontiac New Democratic Party (NDP), which brought together guests and citizens from various backgrounds who all had an interest in a current topic in Gatineau: social housing. After an acknowledgement of the traditional unceded Anishnabe territory on which the Université du Québec en Outaouais (which hosted the conference) sits, the four panelists immediately got down to the topic of the day and its application to the National Capital Region.
Daniel Blaikie, MP for Elmwood-Transcona, Treasury Board Critic and Deputy Ethics Critic, spoke in both languages to discuss some of his party's priorities. "The New Democratic Party is working with and toward a clear objective: to make housing a human right. This means not treating housing as a mere commodity and not letting the current market decide on prices," he said. "We are leaving too many citizens behind," he added, explaining that it is difficult for a person to focus on their future, or even their day, if they do not know where they will sleep at night.
The idea being explored by the NDP is a special fund for non-profit organizations and housing co-ops that would be interested in making social housing available to the public. According to Daniel Blaikie, the government must have a strategy that is not geared towards the rise and fall of the open market. The MP also took a few moments to explain the actions that Ottawa-Gatineau residents can take to express their interest in social housing: association meetings and letters to your elected officials at various levels of government (especially the federal government) are valid options.
Céline Breault, former president of the non-profit Chelsea Housing Corporation and former candidate for the Pontiac NDP, recounted her journey with her project for a residence for seniors aged 75 and over in the Chelsea area. Having passed the 12-year mark, the project presented the Chelsea municipal committee with alarming results: following a feasibility study conducted by the municipality's sub-committee on seniors and affordable housing, Chelsea's political leaders had tangible proof that a large proportion of their senior citizens were leaving the region after a certain age due to a lack of adapted housing and services.
The project is still active, despite the fact that its development has been slowed down by the numerous changes in regulations of the Société d'habitation du Québec (SHQ) over the years. Raphaël Déry, Parti Québécois candidate in Gatineau, co-op lawyer and leader of Loge-Action Outaouais, echoed the difficulties faced by the former NDP candidate in Pontiac and spoke at length about the benefits of affordable housing and co-ops. The man, who grew up in Hull (in, you guessed it, a co-op!), pointed out that the provincial government's administrative regulations are complicated and often slow down social housing initiatives: "It's defensible to want to invest in infrastructure, roadblocks. But to underfund programs that support social housing construction? That can’t continue.”
Finally, Latonya Ludford, project manager for The Shift and their #right2housing movement, suggested that the government would benefit from a legislative framework for social housing: affordability, accessibility of housing and basic services, the tenant-landlord relationship, the condition of the building and the infrastructure of the building are all factors that could be governed by a specific policy, which would then serve as a reference in the field. "A house is not a commodity but a social good that must be treated as such and the realization of the right to housing will require a whole-of-government approach," concluded the manager.
Photo credit: Screenshot from the "What's behind the housing crisis? conference, Saturday 14 January 2023.
Photo caption: Raphaël Déry (left), Latonya Ludford (right), and citizens attending the conference.