The housing market is big business in Canada, with beautiful, spacious suburbs springing up in cities like Winnipeg. Even as communities for the wealthy or reasonably well off have grown over the past years, the supply of housing for low-income Canadians has not followed.
Poor Housing: A Silent Crisis, a book sponsored and published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, is both an explanation of the problem and a call to action.
As the authors note, only a new investment in affordable and social housing will help make Winnipeg hospitable for both rich and poor, while benefiting all sectors of society.
Ever since the federal government ended its involvement in low-cost housing in 1993 and social housing agreements were left to expire, the proportion of housing built by private, for-profit companies has grown considerably.
While wages have stagnated or fallen, the cost of housing has risen substantially, leaving the poor to compete for the few affordable housing options that still remain.
Chapters in the book are organized into the four basic categories: problems with low-income housing, problems facing particular populations of low-income tenants, government and social housing, and social housing that works.
Within each section are chapters dealing with topics such as the problem of bed bugs in many parts of Canada and the world, changes in social housing policies, poverty, discrimination, and many other issues.
For many Canadians, buying a house or at least a condominium is a major goal in life, with apartments as temporary homes while they save money for a down payment. Those who cannot afford any of these choices might have to manage with less expensive options, such as rooming houses, for example.
Although many rooming houses have disappeared in the past years, they were once a normal and entirely respectable form of housing which allowed people on the margins to live comfortably and well. This change is only one of the issues discussed in this book.
Perhaps the biggest problem, some of the contributors write, is the shift in mentality which has turned housing from a social need and a human right to a commodity, subject to the vagaries of the market. Yet there is still hope, according to the authors.
The final section of the book deals with some of the projects which are helping to alleviate the struggle for low-cost housing in Winnipeg.
Urban Aboriginal housing cooperatives, Lord Selkirk Park, and the West End Commons are three examples of initiatives which are helping to make affordable housing available to people who cannot pay for market-based homes in Winnipeg.
Despite its analysis of greed and neglect in Canada’s housing sector over the past years, Poor Housing: A Silent Crisis ends on a hopeful note.
More work needs to be done, the authors note, but community organizations and other groups are trying to be part of the solution to a problem that affects all residents of Winnipeg and other cities across the country.
Even with many different authors contributing to the work, this book has an overall unity that helps to tie the various topics together.
Although some of the early sections contain some repetition of basic facts and concepts, the book is an interesting and comprehensive account of how Canadians are dealing with one of people’s most basic needs.