Republished from the print edition of the Brandon Sun. November 2. 2013
In a time when home ownership is a pipe dream for many, the call has come for politicians nationwide to put aside petty partisan squabbles and adequately address the issue of housing shortages in many communities.
It’s an issue that, if left untreated, will become a national epidemic.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has called on the federal government to work with leaders of all levels of government in every province and territory to develop a new housing strategy. This strategy would see municipal leaders work hand in hand with developers to address the greatest needs.
The call to action comes on the heels of a damning statistic that says one-third of Canadians struggle to cover housing costs on a monthly basis. That statistic, although somewhat vague in its scope, seems to cover many income levels, from entry level and social housing to moderate mid-income earners.
That middle-class earner is the one all political parties state they represent the needs of the best. It’s the group that will become a battleground for politicians at all levels as the next election cycle nears.
The housing crisis has also caused a record high level of household debt and a stretch of personal expendable income. Both of these numbers were off the charts when our U.S. counterparts were pushed into recession.
Ballooning household debt, an overstretched housing market, bank bailouts and a financial crisis was a recipe for disaster. That same potential exists if the housing need isn’t addressed properly north of the border.
Numbers also show Canadians are carrying more than $1.1 trillion in mortgage debt, a frightening statistic that puts the country’s economy at risk. Without some form of market stabilization and national strategy to better align potential home ownership, or adequate rental stocks for Canadians, the prognosis seems far worse before it gets better.
So what to do? Home ownership has long been thought of as a measuring stick of adulthood and stability and we have a generation of Canadians who lack the opportunities that home ownership brings. Although a basic hope of our society, our government has not done enough to help make affordable housing opportunities a reality, and that is truly a shame.
I was fortunate to purchase my first home at an early age, but have since seen the price to enter the market become very unattainable for someone in that same situation now, which is why FCM has laid down the gauntlet for federal leaders. Those leaders have been tasked with enacting change while squabbling over loose-pocketed senators or politicians who cannot recall who was present at meetings regarding issues within their government.
However dry a national housing strategy may be for the headlines, nothing will be accomplished on this while our government is spinning 720 degrees a day to stave off its own demise.
Perhaps this government could make some headway on the public relations front if it took a serious look at the abolition of the long unnecessary Senate, and used those funds to prime the pump on a guidebook and building blocks for a national housing strategy.
It is not a simple solution or something that can be solved overnight, but members of all levels of government need to seek solutions before the number of people affected by the housing crisis grows too high to reach a resolution in our lifetime.
This is happening in our community, it affects many around us and is a reason our council should and likely will join FCM’s call for action at the federal level.
The federal government desperately needs to flip the channel on politics and FCM may have thrown them a bone in this call to action. Whether the Conservatives use it as a legacy project for their time in government is up to them, but the opportunity exists to do something more than hokey advertising gimmicks or political crisis management in what could be the tail end of their mandate.
Housing issues are non-discriminating. They affect all of us, whether it is our parents who are stretched thin in pensions while still clearing debt of home ownership; our friends seeking to access affordable first-time home options or secondary long term residence; vulnerable persons who are owed by society a safe option; or working families stretched too far while overtaxed and underemployed. They all deserve a better shake than they are getting now.
Who knows, if there is a party that adequately provides a solution for housing, while working with all levels of government, it may garner enough votes to stick around for a while longer, or conversely upset the king in the chess game that has been Canadian politics of late.
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