Expert rips interim report of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability
A former UN special rapporteur on adequate housing says he’s unimpressed by the interim report of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability. In an interview at the Georgia Straight office, Miloon Kothari said that he’s read the document and believes it doesn’t adopt a “rights-based” approach to housing. Instead, he characterized most of the policy proposals as more market-based, including a call to lower development costs.
“Unless you have a situation where there is more rent control and you have a situation where more middle-income people are able to afford to live in Vancouver—and you have…more serious attempts to have mixed neighbourhoods and regulate speculation—until you see all of that, there isn’t going to be much of a change,” the New Delhi–based Kothari said.
In 2009, Kothari wrote a report on the housing situation in Canada for the UN Human Rights Council. At the time, he reported that Vancouver had lost more than 1,400 low-income housing units since July 2003, according to nongovernmental organizations.
Earlier this year, an Illinois-based company, Demographia, reported that Vancouver has the second-most expensive housing market in the world, after taking into account residents’ incomes. Hong Kong topped the list, which meant in effect that Vancouver has the most expensive housing in the western hemisphere. Kothari said that the public should be asking officials what they are doing to protect the nature of the city and prevent middle-income people from leaving.
“I don’t know how the situation was allowed to get to where it has,” he said. “There is some accountability that has to be there. The bureaucrats’ response that we’re only meeting demand is not acceptable.”
Kothari swore an affidavit in an Ontario Superior Court of Justice court case seeking to have the right to housing protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He stated in the document that it could “provide effective remedies for those who are denied access to adequate housing”.
He said that if Vancouver adopted a rights-based approach, the first step would be to conduct a detailed assessment of where low-income and middle-income people live, as well as their housing conditions. Kothari praised Canada for pioneering the concept of a “housing continuum”, in which there are numerous options ranging from shelters for the poorest of the poor to supportive housing, hostels, rental accommodation, and ownership. But on this, his fourth visit to the city, he still hasn’t observed all of these options.
“What I see in Vancouver is you only have two or three options,” he stated. “You’re either in a shelter or you’re renting, and that’s precarious, because now you can be thrown out.”
He said there isn’t any genuine rent control, because under provincial legislation a landlord can announce that he or she is renovating a suite, forcing the tenant to move. “I’m sure that landlords that never even thought of renovating are saying, ‘Let’s renovate and we can have high rent.’ It’s a form of eviction, really.”
Kothari pointed out that there is a more rights-based approach to housing in Montreal and Toronto, as well as in European cities such as Berlin and Vienna. In addition, he pointed to São Paulo, Brazil, as a city in the southern hemisphere that has rights-based legislation and that transfers money from wealthier areas to improve poorer neighbourhoods.
“There are lots of models,” Kothari said. “I don’t think any attempts are being made to look at other models. There is sort of an arrogance in housing policy here.”
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