The housing crisis in the Outaouais – homelessness, unaffordable housing, the lack of suitable and affordable housing for both young families and seniors – is becoming a matter of urgency and political concern in Canada.
How did we get here? The Thatcher years in England brought austerity-minded political winds to Canada, resulting in less government investment in housing. Prime Ministers Mulroney and Chretien opted for balanced budgets rather than social investment. Martin began the tradition of transferring untargeted grants to provinces. The provinces found other areas in which to spend their money, on the theory that market forces would regulate housing. Municipalities, which were supposed to be partners in housing, were left without the tools to make housing a priority.
According to the UN, adequate housing is a right in the full sense of the word. In 2017, the UN rapporteur on housing, Ms. Leilani Farha of Canada, denounced the current trend towards the commodification of housing and its capture by "banks, insurance funds, pension funds, hedge funds, venture capitalists and other intermediaries with large amounts of capital and surplus cash." Farha stated that, despite Canada’s global standing as a top 10 performing economy, there are at least 235,000 homeless people and 1.34 million households in core housing need, with acute affordability problems. Yet, if housing is a right, this right seems to be undermined in the Outaouais.
The problems of access to adequate housing first are particularly worrying in a region where housing has been a central issue since the 1960s. In fact, in the Outaouais, the situation is so worrying that the Ligue des droits et liberté (LDL) du Québec produced a report on the issue in 2021, concluding that "the essential elements of the right to housing, as defined by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, are severely undermined in Gatineau." In Gatineau, for example, the cost of housing in the region jumped by 61 per cent between 2000 and 2019 – even before the COVID crisis – while inflation (CPI) rose by only 41.7 per cent. In the Outaouais, immigrants, seniors, Indigenous people , women, and racialized people are the first to suffer from the current crisis. Lack of adequate housing means jeopardizing many other rights, such as health, education, safety, work, food, privacy, dignity and even life.
The organization Logemen'occupe last August called the different levels of government to a summit meeting so that concrete actions are quickly put in place. On Nov. 5, the Pontiac NDP is holding a roundtable, open to the public, on the right to housing and on the reality of the current crisis in Pontiac, Gatineau and the surrounding MRCs. This roundtable, held at the University of Outaouais, will be an opportunity to bring together long-time housing rights and access activists and citizens to better understand the issues related to the housing crisis and propose short, medium and long-term solutions. More information on the event here: https://fb.me/e/2WC2iNPPO.
Carl Hager is a retired educator and resident of the Municipality of Pontiac.