Monday, January 30, 2012

Report of Right to Housing Coalition

Annual Report, Jan. 8, 2012

Right to Housing Coalition is a non-profit, volunteer advocacy coalition of 46 supporting organizations, an active membership of over 40 individuals and an email circulation list of 160.   I appreciate the opportunity to report on the past year’s activities.

The most often asked question that I get as the coalition’s coordinator is, “What are you doing about the empty houses on the Kapyong base?”  This is understandable, as our earliest actions, by the then River Heights Housing Action Group, was to try to find a use for those houses.   

That was over seven years ago and a lot has changed in that time.  For one thing, most but not all, of the habitable houses on the base are now occupied.  Those that aren’t are said to be uninhabitable.  Also so the City of Winnipeg is planning to widen Kenaston Boulevard at some time so little is being spent to keep those houses maintained.  After receiving consistent refusals from Canada’s Department of National Defence, Right to Housing has decided that any further attempts to use the existing houses on the base would be futile.  We are however very interested in trying to ensure that the future development of the surplus military property south of Grant Ave. will include a percentage of affordable and social housing.

So what have we been doing if not fighting with DND?  Our focus is entirely on the critical and chronic shortage of affordable and social rental housing in our city, our province and our country.  There has been much research done to document the reasons for this and it would make this a very long report if I tried to include it all here.  Let me say that the reasons are all the result of bad and/or short-sighted policies enacted by our three levels of government.  These include the way tax structures discourage the creation of new affordable rentals, the decision of the Federal Government to stop funding the creation of affordable rentals, the lack of regulation of the conversion of rental properties to condos and the unwillingness of local governments to tackle the Not In My Backyard, (NIMBY), phenomenon that effectively blocks the development of higher density housing in residential areas.  The results, for example, are that;
·        The vacancy rate in Winnipeg is less than 1%, about the lowest in the country.
·        The rental universe in Winnipeg lost 835 units, of which at least 450 were permanently removed, between October 2009 and October 2010, leaving 52,319 units.
·        Since 1992 Winnipeg’s rental universe has declined by 9%, from 57,279 to 52,319.  Over this same time Winnipeg’s population has increased by 11%, from 677,000 to 753,600.
·        Rents are increasing steadily with the general cost of living, easily outstripping the increases on minimum wages while basic housing allowances on Income Assistance rates have not been increased in over a decade.
·        Homelessness in Winnipeg is rising steadily.  We have 500 shelter beds in Winnipeg.  They are full every night and people are always being turned away.  Homeless people are not always visible as they are often living in overcrowded apartments with friends and relatives, (couch surfing).
·        Soup kitchens and Winnipeg Harvest have become a necessity not just for the homeless, but also for renters who must supplement their housing budget with food money and depend on Harvest to keep from starving.
Right to Housing has set up a working group for each level of government.  These working groups study new and existing policies and develop position papers that propose solutions to problematic policies.  Hours of research and consultation go into this process.  It would not be possible without the assistance of our volunteers and the staff time of some of our organizational supporters.  We lobby politicians and bureaucrats from each level of government with our recommendations.  We also try to raise public awareness about the housing crisis in Canada through letters, petitions, demonstrations and media events during elections, for without public pressure it is almost impossible to create policy change.

A Summary of our Activities in 2011
Letters to the editor, op/eds published in the Free Press                  4
Letters to the Minister of Housing in Manitoba                                2
Letters to Premier Salinger                                                                2
Letters to Members of Parliament                                                     2
Meetings with Members of Parliament                                             1
Meetings with the Minister of Housing                                             2         
Papers and Articles                                                                            2
Presentations                                                                                      5
Press Releases                                                                                                3
Demonstrations and staged events                                                     3
Affordable Rental Housing Roundtable meetings                             4

These tangible deliverables represent many hours of regular coalition meetings and consultations.  For more details about the content you may want to go to our website, or visit our Facebook page.  We are always glad to speak to community interest groups.  Individuals are welcome to any of our monthly meetings.  They are held at Crossways in Common on the third Tuesday afternoon of each month.

Clark Brownlee

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