Saturday, February 23, 2013

Our Housing Crisis

The opening of my latest column in The Independent.

"Last week the CBC held their annual pancake breakfast to raise money for the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing & Homelessness Network. They organized pancake breakfasts around the province and ran
stories about how rising housing prices are squeezing the poor, many of which were quite interesting (I especially enjoyed the Crosstalk episode "Can you afford to live where you live").

Regrettably, the CBC has chosen to frame the housing squeeze mostly as a poverty issue. This framing lends itself to human interest stories about poor unfortunate people who are couch surfing or sleeping at the post office or loitering at the mall to keep warm. Surprise and concern is expressed about the way "those people" live and an appeal is made for charity. Give a few dollars at the pancake breakfast or drop off some canned goods at your local soup kitchen and come away with a sense of pride that you have made a difference. A week later the issue falls off the radar and we get stories describing our property market doing "twice as well" as the rest of Canada, as though the surging cost of housing is terrific news.

I should clarify that I do not mean to discourage media outlets from covering what is a very important issue. I certainly do not want to belittle the efforts of church groups and community organizations who are doing all they can with meager resources to mitigate the most severe effects of the rising cost of living. My point is that the scale of the problem is far too great to be solved through charitable giving (incidentally, CBC is estimating about $35,000 was raised from those pancake breakfasts). This issue will not receive the attention and resources it deserves if we keep thinking about it as "their problem" rather than "our problem", and I fear that focusing only on those worst affected will keep us in the wrong mindset.

As a purely practical matter, activists must appeal to the self-interest of the wealthy and upper-middle class, because in our imperfect democracy it is only their opinions that have much influence on public policy. Fortunately, the better-off have good reason to prefer lower housing prices. The ballooning cost of housing, particularly in the North-East Avalon, may be the single most important drag on economic growth and job creation that we face today."

The argument supporting the preceding sentence can be found in full column here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One major area where the federal government needs to step in to help out is in Labrador City as it doesn't even have a regular shelter where anyone who is on a waiting list for affordable housing can stay. The temperatures in the winter can hit in the -30's - 40's where Godforbid anyone without a place to live and no shelter is in a very real life threatening situation. There's not enough affordable housing there which is another thing however there needs to be a shelter in that city where anyone can go who finds themselves in a situation where they have no place to call home. Right now there's only an emergency shelter for women but that's not enough there needs to be a shelter to include anyone of any age, male or female. The federal government needs to act now to correct that situation and at the same time there needs to be more government built places to make more affordable housing available to shorten those wait times. With only an emergency shelter for women what happens to the rest of people who find themselves not being able to afford a place to live? These things also end up costing tax payers more money because being homeless means not having enough money for a normal healthy diet, poor health, more trips to doctors and hospitals.