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Friday, December 9, 2022
Letter: There is no housing supply problem. It’s a social and financial problem

Dear editor:

Contrary to what Premier Doug Ford, Housing Minister Steve Clark and the real estate and development industry maintains, housing is not a supply problem. It is a societal and financial problem.

In my 43 years as a real estate broker I have witnessed the commodification and financialization of housing.

Successive governments at both the federal and provincial levels have backed away from their responsibility to plan for, regulate and fund housing as a basic family and human right.

Instead, as part and parcel of the financialization of virtually every facet of Canadian society, the governments of Canada and Ontario have abandoned almost all direct investment in community housing and regulation of the industry.

The name "Ontario Housing" used to suggest projects that were called unsatisfactory and unwanted by many across Ontario, suggestive of crowding the "poor" into ghetto-like buildings.

Instead, today we have tent cities in public parks, thousands and thousands of homeless families and individuals who can afford at best a tiny basement apartment or rooming house after their time is up in the "homeless" shelter.

Back in the day of Premier Bill Davis we had innovative leased land developments, like most of Bramalea, that provided good affordable family housing for low-income families, co-operatives and public housing for seniors and people with disabilities, and effective landlord and rent controls, which prevented gouging and evictions.

We also had municipalities working with developers to produce planned neighbourhoods like Don Mills, Meadowvale and Erin Mills. These provided a range of housing centred on transit and community.

Today we have the government of Ontario echoing the real estate, finance and development industries' mantra to dismantle all planning controls and regulation so that industry can fix the "supply" problem.

No Premier Ford and Minister Clark, what Ontario needs is more government leadership, not less.

How about re-establishing effective rent controls and tenant rights under provincial law to preclude eviction to jack up rental rates?

How about some direct investment and leadership into innovative projects like land lease developments, co-operatives, subsidized public housing for the needy, built in co-operation with the federal government and municipalities.

What about encouraging churches and community groups to develop more non-profit seniors housing, which has proven far more beneficial to seniors than private profit centres?

The best part is that all of these initiatives could be funded through an effective speculation tax; not just 15 or 20 per cent on "foreign owners" but maybe a flat 50 to 75 per cent on all speculators, domestic and foreign.

Additionally all short-term rentals, like Airbnbs, should be taxed at the commercial rate equivalent to hotels and motels and not as residential property.

In many areas fully 10 to 15 per cent of all residential housing stock is devoted to weekend tourist traffic, which would alleviate the lack of residential housing if taxed appropriately such that long-term rental was encouraged.

No, Mr. Ford, what we need in Ontario is a government that recognizes housing as a basic family human right and works to encourage local initiatives such that adult children don't have to live their entire lives in their parents' basement and the less fortunate aren't forced to live on the street.

We need more regulation and leadership of real estate development and banking industries – not less.

Robert Bader