Thursday, March 1, 2007

My presentation at the Affordable Housing Task Force

This is a cleaned up transcript of my presentation, as coordinator of CHAI (Calgary Housing Action Initiative), to the Affordable Housing Task Force on February 28, 2007:

There are a few things I want to recommend today. Some of them are to address the immediate housing crisis and can be looked at as short term measures to deal with the fact that we’re having so many people forced out of their homes by the complete lack of regulation of our housing market. Those include moderated forms of rent control and a freeze on condoization. These are really critical to address the emergency today. And, frankly, ‘emergency’ is a bit of a mild word in my view.

Photo of Bill Phipps speaking at the task force. We heard earlier today from Bill Phipps talking about the moral imperitive that we have to deal with housing. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—to which Canada is a signatory and therefore obliged to follow—specifically identifies housing as a human right. We are failing to meet the human rights of people who live in our society.

One of the other things that we absolutely need to do is revise the MGA, Municipal Government Act (I know it’s currently under review) of the provincial government, which governs what municipalities can do. Because the municipalities, when we approach them to say “Okay, we need some measures to address the housing crisis,” we keep hearing from them “Well, our hands are tied—the Municipal Government Act doesn’t allow us to take these measures.”

So, they need to be freed up to do things. Particularly inclusionary zoning—which, I recognize, the ideology of our current government kind of rejects because the ideology of our current government is around the invisible god of the market. But, the reality is that, if we had inclusionary zoning in place twenty years ago, we would not be in this situation because there would be an adequate stock of diverse housing options to meet the changing needs of our society.

Inclusionary zoning isn’t just about affordable housing. It’s about accessible housing, and it’s about providing a diversity of options from single family units to multi-family units, to individuals, assisted needs, and so on. Those are very critical to our society as a whole because we have such a monocultural mode of development in our city now, where we have these cookie-cutter neighborhoods going up that do not meet the changing needs of our society. They may meet the needs of the exceedingly wealthy people at the top right now, but after the next crash what are we going to be doing to meet the needs of the diverse number of people in our society? Particularly when we’re experiencing record growth?

Diverse housing, I think, is really a key phrase here. Not just affordable housing—but a diversity of housing options.

The single family bungalow, these 2000 square foot things that are going up all over the place here, that’s not adequate to meet the needs of a healthy community. We need to change what we allow in terms of development in our city. We need to integrate it across the board. It can’t just be “Okay, we’ll make the inner-city diverse and the suburbs can be these monocultural monstrosities that the are now” No. We need this entire city to be diverse at all levels.

One of the things I consider to be a really critical point of view on this is that, currently, those in power in this society, are treating housing as something that is just part of the market and that to address anything about housing is a cost.

Photo of me speaking at the task force Housing is not a cost. Failure to ensure that everyone in our society is housed is a cost.

Housing is core infrastructure. We don’t scoff at the notion of paying for roads—that’s infrastructure to make sure we can get around. Well, we need infrastructure to ensure that we can actually survive in this community and, hopefully, thrive.

Someone who is in a shelter cannot thrive in this community. Someone who has a home has tremendous potential to thrive in this community. And we are wasting so much of our potential as a society.

So, again, I really want to emphasize the importance of integrated communities across the board. Every single community in this city should be seeing transformation toward inclusionary zoning.

We have to acknowledge our collective responsibility. This isn’t something where “oh, those poor people—maybe this charity will help them out.” No. This is us. We as a society are responsible for all of the members of this society.

Government is intended to be a collective voice and the collective action of our society. And our government, frankly, has failed miserably and is reflective that we as a society are barbarians. The way we treat—and we’ve heard stories today of the treatment of—children who are being shunted from church basement to church basement. That’s ridiculous. They don’t treat people like that in other societies, so why would we do that here when we are supposidly so rich?

But, we aren’t rich. We’re in terrible poverty.

Hopefully you will recommend some genuine actions that reflect the actual needs of our society. And some significant change not only to address the immediate crisis—which is critical—but also to address the underlying infrastructural needs so that we can move forward for the long term in a sustainable and diverse manner to meet the needs of all people in this society.

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