The federal government marked National Housing Day with press conferences in Vancouver and Toronto today to announce new federal funding for affordable housing and for improvements to existing housing stock. Housing justice activists in both cities, however, said that the new commitments from the Trudeau government are far less than what is required to address the affordability emergency.
“It’s been many years that the federal government has not been directly engaged in housing, and we know that housing affordability is a huge issue for Canadians right across the country,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa after the Liberal Party’s morning caucus meeting, before travelling to Toronto to announce the details of the new federal housing strategy.
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In Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood, organizers marked National Housing Day by taking over the intersection of King and Dufferin to deliver a powerful visual message with signs and banners.
The intersection is the site of a luxury condo development that organizers say will displace lower-income residents in the area.
Feds are back in the housing business
In the afternoon Trudeau held a press conference in Lawrence Heights, with Toronto Mayor John Tory and local MPs and MPPs in attendance.
“Our government was elected on a commitment to make housing a priority,” Trudeau said, after reviewing the history of national housing programs. “We believe that all Canadians deserve a real and fair chance at success.”
The prime minister announced the government is pledging $40 billion over 10 years to build new housing, repair the existing housing stock, and support lower-income families to stay in their homes. Most of the new federal money announced by Trudeau, however, will not be made available until after the 2019 election.
Trudeau’s announcement of a National Housing Strategy fulfills, at least in part, a long-held demand of housing activists across Canada. Successive Conservative and Liberal governments have slashed social housing spending in recent decades. From 1993 to 2002, under the Chrétien and Martin Liberal governments, no federal funding was allocated for new social housing.
“The federal government is not only back into housing, we’re here for the long term. Housing rights are human rights,” Trudeau added, echoing the federal NDP and housing justice movements.
Any effective housing strategy must begin with the recognition that housing is a human right#NationalHousingDay— Jagmeet Singh (@theJagmeetSingh) November 22, 2017
‘A mere band-aid’
Additional National Housing Day protest actions are planned for the weekend. A coalition of groups in Vancouver describing the federal government’s plans for funding social housing “a mere band-aid” are holding a rally and march on Saturday, Nov. 25. In addition to demanding more overall funding from the federal government, the Vancouver action has a series of local demands linked to ongoing struggles in the Downtown Eastside and Chinatown:
- We need Federal funding to meet the long-standing demand of the Downtown Eastside community for 100% welfare and pension rate community-controlled housing at 58 W Hastings.
- We acknowledge the historical struggle of the low-income community in Chinatown and this community’s demand for the culturally and historically significant site at 105 Keefer. We need Federal funding for the site to be acquired and developed into 100% welfare and pension rate housing with free and public community space.
- Ensure first priority for safe and affordable housing for women fleeing violence, women with children and women at risk of child apprehension, and elderly women.
The Vancouver protest was organized in conjunction with groups in Toronto, who also held a rally at Allan Gardens right before Trudeau’s announcement.
@OCAPtoronto (about 100 people rn) at Allan Gardens demanding affordable housing, ending homelessness, housing allowances, lower rents, better rent control today as Liberals announce their National Housing Strategy. pic.twitter.com/GvjXM3NMMz— tiffany (@tlmsy) November 22, 2017