April 5 Housing Rally Speeches
Hi everyone, I’m Doug Yearwood - KUT organizer, part of PSAC Local 901 and our Affordable Housing Working Group, and here with the Communist Party of Canada’s Housing for People Not for Profit campaign.
When KUT first formed in 2019, one of the first things we did was sit down and talk with two representatives from the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing: Ted Hsu and Mary-Rita Holland. We were told that we were being consulted because the city had a mandate to increase supply and affordable housing and that the City wanted to learn more about personal stories with housing in Kingston. Well, we gave them a bunch of ways to improve the affordable housing situation and we told them about our stories dealing with bad landlords, pests, and unaffordable housing. Do you want to know what they did with that information? Nothing!
Instead, what the Mayor’s Task Force decided was that more money needed to be given to developers, believing the solution to the housing crisis to be really simple: build more housing. It’s been three years, friends. Has more housing done anything to help your rent costs? Has luxury rental housing construction and continued suburban expansion solved all your problems? I don’t think so.
“Build more housing.” This has been the slogan rich people have always favored when responding to housing crises in Kingston and across Canada. And it is worth pointing out again that the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing was stuffed full of developers and career climbing politicians who do not care one bit about suffering or people’s housing problems. These people all talk about building more housing, but build more housing for whom? For the 11 000 people in Kingston who already own more than one home? That’s what it looks like to me, because I have yet to see the City take a systematic approach to building housing at prices working people can afford.
People would be more likely to believe the Mayor cared about housing affordability if they saw city staff push for social and cooperative housing funding from the federal government through the National Housing Co-investment Fund or Rapid Housing Initiative. They would also be more likely to believe the Mayor if he was not sitting idly by while Kingston and Frontenac Housing Corporation started to rent out apartments at unaffordable market prices. People would be inclined to believe he cared about tenants if more bylaw officers were hired to deal with the massive bed bug and pest problem that thousands of tenants are forced to deal with on a daily basis. But they do nothing, and they expect you to do nothing as well.
Neither the mayor nor the politicians who willingly joined his farcical task force offer real solutions. Instead, they very much favour the status quo, not challenging it in any intelligible way despite seeing and knowing full well the suffering that is being endured in this city.
But there are things we can do, and things we must do if we hope to address the housing crisis. I’m working within my union to try and get Queen’s University to build community housing at costs affordable to graduate students, who make less than $25k a year on average. We have tried to get Kingston and District Labour Council on board and have seen them and other bodies of organized labour support housing movements at various times. If you’re in a union, tell your union they need to mobilize and work to solve the housing crisis with community partners.
We also need to popularize ideas and build movements that are capable of responding to this crisis. I’d like to tell you quickly about the Housing for People not Profit campaign I am working on, and I have petitions here that you can sign afterwards if you agree. Our petition calls for rent rollbacks across the province so that nobody pays more than 20 percent of their monthly income on rent. It calls for the expansion of social housing, and demands that social housing be decent for individuals and families to live in. It calls for penalizing landlords who fail to do building maintenance and making bed bugs and pests a public health issue, and calls for expropriating big landlords to turn their units into rent-controlled, publicly owned affordable housing for all inhabitants.
Katarokwi Union of Tenants is also working on a campaign for the upcoming municipal election. This campaign demands that housing be made a human right for all, meaning that it is affordable, adequate, safe, and near amenities and schools. Unlike the Mayor, who supports “reduced or deferred development fees for affordable units, grants for building, reducing property taxes,” and other schemes that give public money to the rich, we loudly and proudly demand a robust housing program that includes expanding and radically reforming Kingston and Frontenac Housing Corporation, overhauling it to make sure tenants’ interests lead the way. We want the City to sponsor and encourage the development of cooperative and rent-geared-to-income housing projects through the federal government's National Housing Co-investment Fund and Rapid Housing Initiative. We want to repeal the anti-encampment bylaw that allowed the City to destroy Belle Park’s unhoused community so that people are not forced further and deeper into the woods and other precarious situations, and we want to introduce a motel housing and conversion program to immediately house everyone that needs a home this coming winter. For buildings that are sitting idly by or which have not been taken care of, we want to use municipal powers to expropriate the owners and build affordable housing for the people.
Another world is possible, but we need to work with each other and build movements to get it done. We need trade unions and organized labour to get on board in meaningful, actionable ways. It is a process, for sure! It won’t happen overnight, but if we understand that mobilizing and organizing is the only way out of this crisis, then we can all work together to build towards a better tomorrow. Thank you!
The Katarokwi Union of Tenants would like to respectfully acknowledge that we’re meeting on unceded territory, including that of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, and other First Nations. The sovereignty of these peoples was recognized in the royal proclamation of 1763, and their right to this land was never surrendered but rather stolen.
Indigenous land theft continues to this day unchecked and with increasing violence and intensity. In our struggle as tenants, we must also struggle for the recognition of Indigenous rights and Indigenous self-determination as part of our political work.
Since last March, only one year ago, rent for a one bedroom apartment in Kingston is up 11%. Rent for a two bedroom apartment is up 18%. The Canadian stock market is up 14%. Inflation is up 6%. We are told that these are the signs of a thriving housing market, of a hot economy, of our glorious post-COVID economic recovery.
Now, who got a pay raise last year? If you didn’t, then you got a pay cut, because your same salary now buys 6% less stuff. When you combine that with the rent increases, Kingston’s tenants became 20-25% more poor from 2021 to 2022, based on market forces alone.
If you struggle to pay your rent and bills, and still put food on your family’s table, it’s because economic recovery for the rich and powerful is taking place at your expense.
If you feel trapped in a run-down or pest-ridden apartment because you can’t afford to move, it’s because politicians like those meeting in that building right now choose to give public money and tax breaks to wealthy developers, like the Smith family that owns Homestead, Jay Patry, Ben Pilon, and others, rather than growing and maintaining the City’s social housing supply.
If you’re forced to live on the streets while tens of thousands of properties across the country sit empty, it’s because powerful people have decided that it’s more important for house prices to always go up, than for people to actually live in these houses.
This is what it means when we say that the housing market is commodified. Commodification is when a house becomes an investment rather than a home. It’s what happens when developers and government conspire to put profit over people. The Katarokwi Union of Tenants believes that housing is not a commodity, but a human right, and we won’t stop fighting to make this happen.
The housing crisis is not a supply problem, because there are several empty homes in Canada for every person experiencing homelessness. Rather, the housing crisis is a problem of how housing is valued as an asset rather than as shelter, and how we distribute it based on profitability rather than need.
Mayor Paterson, Lanie Hurdle, and City Council are only addressing these problems by giving more money to the developers creating this crisis in the first place. The housing market is driving more Kingstonians and Canadians into homelessness by the month, and developers, landlords, and real estate investors are making off like the bandits that they are. This is how capitalism has always worked: stolen wealth for the few, and poverty for the rest of us, who actually create the wealth through our labour.
We need new solutions. We need to build rent-geared-to-income social housing, affordable housing, and transitional housing to support people leaving situations of domestic violence, incarceration, homelessness or shelters, based on need.
We need to upgrade and maintain existing units so that they are safe, secure, affordable, accessible and environmentally sound. We need democratic and sustainable planning to tackle issues of urban sprawl and environmental degradation.
We need rent control and rent roll-backs for all rental units, including vacant ones, to undo the damage of the housing crisis on renters. We need to ban evictions or utility cut-off due to involuntary unemployment, including layoff, health issues, strike or lockout.
We need to cap rent at 20% of income, for every single tenant. We need to recognize housing as a human right, and fight to make this a reality.
One of the major campaigns we’ve been working on is around pest infestation, and the deplorable state of rental housing supplied by one of Kingston’s largest corporate landlords. We’ve spoken to people whose buildings are so badly infested with bed bugs, cockroaches, and mold, that they are forced to live out of garbage bags and plastic containers to protect their belongings from pests. People who haven’t owned a mattress in years because of how quickly they get overtaken by bugs. Even someone whose child was bitten by a rat. Our next speaker is Shawna, a tenant from one of these buildings who has been doing amazing work to organize her building, so they can fight against their landlord with solidarity and tenant power. Please show her some love!