In his article in Saturday’s Free Press, (December 13, 2008), Dan Klymchuk tries to make a case for the Manitoba Government selling off 13,100 units of public housing. This would not solve the problem; indeed it would only make a critical situation immeasurably worse. And this is certainly not an experiment we want to try at a time when our economy is beginning to sputter. Unlike the public system and non-profits committed to housing low-income families, the private sector can pick and choose who they rent units to, especially in a tight rental market such as ours. Quite frankly it is hard to imagine private owners concerned with their profit margins troubling themselves with renting their units to some of the high need families currently living in public housing. Where will these people go?
Mr. Klymchuk assumes providing rent subsidies directly to low-income families and individuals will give them more options. This assumes that there are enough available rental apartments. There are not. The vacancy rate in Winnipeg is at an all time low of .5%, Given this low vacancy rate and the increase in rents that would result from privatization, the reality will be further displacement of our poorest and most vulnerable.
The role of the private sector is to build housing that meets a market need. The government has an important social responsibility to ensure that those unable to pay for market housing are provided with safe and affordable alternatives. History clearly shows that the market cannot meet this need. The problem isn’t public housing but rather the years of neglect in maintaining it and building more of it.
With the recession in full bloom, we have an opportunity to strengthen our social housing system rather than dismantle it. Investment in social housing provides an ideal way of keeping the building trades employed, keeping lumber industries producing, training tradesmen who would otherwise be unemployed and in the process, starting to reach Manitoba’s need for what the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association estimates is 1500 units of RGI housing per year for at least the next five years.
Right to Housing Coordinator