Ontario Provincial Election: Housing Matters
By: Lori Oliver
The Ontario provincial election campaign is now in full swing. With housing being the top issue on the minds of Kingstonians', it is important to take a second to critically assess what the front-running candidates for Kingston and the Islands, and their respective parties, are putting forward as solutions to the current crisis.
Paying close attention to Ontario Liberal Party candidate Ted Hsu and Ontario New Democratic Party candidate Mary Rita Holland is important for two reasons. First, the election outcomes in Kingston and the Islands district has long swayed between the two parties. The election will likely result in a victory for one of the two. Second, the two candidates co-chaired the City of Kingston’s Mayor’s Task Force on Housing in 2019. The final report produced from this task force, alongside their respective party platforms, can tell us a lot about what each candidate would realistically do on the issue of housing.
Although identifying an “affordable housing crisis” in the final report of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing in 2019, and setting out recommendations to address this, little has changed for the better. In 2021 the vacancy rate remained low. Although the City boasted a 3.2% vacancy rate in early 2021, this fell rapidly to 1.4% by October 2021. This is the second-lowest vacancy rate in Ontario. Additionally, in a national study, Royal LePage found that home prices in Kingston increased higher in 2021 than in the other 62 Canadian cities examined. A cost of a single-family detached home increased by 44.3% to $780,600. This is far out of reach for most.
One of the recommendations of the report vaguely states: “Public funding is required to build affordable housing.” Yet the report also highlights how public funds in the City were ‘scarce’ and should be used with great discretion. With greater resources available at the provincial level, one can hope that the two would seek more transformative change in Kingston.
The Liberal platform promises to “build 138,000 deeply affordable homes” and the NDP platform commits to 100,000 units of social housing “over the next decade.” These commitments amount to a fraction of people currently on the social housing waiting list. In 2021 there were more than 81,000 households on the waiting list in Toronto alone.
Both platforms commit to improving the Landlord Tenant Board. The NDP platform ensures that the option to have in-person hearings would be returned if they form government. The Liberal platform goes deeper into problems tenants experience. They commit to “ensuring homes are kept in a state of good repair and [will] enforce larger fines for persistently negligent landlords.” While this is an improvement, it fails to address how the Board contributes to uneven power dynamics between landlords and tenants.
In terms of rent control, the NDP’s plan focuses on getting rid of the vacancy decontrol loophole (presented as meaning “you pay what the last tenant paid”). Additionally, the NDP platform commits to having rent control apply to all rental units. The Liberal Platform fixates on this issue and terms the current system a ‘two-tiered rental market’. The core of their plan is to eliminate this ‘two-tiered’ system by bringing all rental units under the same rent control measures. The platform argues that “smaller, more predictable” rent increases will help tenants stay in their homes. What is needed instead is the establishment of rent rollbacks to decrease current rental rates—not “smaller, more predictable” rent increases.
Ultimately, what is being put forward are band-aid solutions when what is needed is life-saving surgery. The proposed measures, if actually instituted, will allow a small percentage of low-income tenants to transition into more comfortable living arrangements over the next decade. For the majority of tenants, though, nothing will change.
The two platforms discussed here are the most far-reaching of any of the main political parties in the current election. To move beyond minor reform, then, it is necessary to look outside the box. The Communist Party of Ontario, for instance, is proposing to “build 200,000 units of rent-geared-to-income social housing units immediately, 550,000 units of affordable housing, [and] 15,000 units of transitional housing.”
The Party additionally promises to enact rent rollbacks to ensure that no-one in the province of Ontario is paying more than 20% of their income for rent and to replace the Landlord Tenancy Board with a tenant-led agency. They also promise to punish landlords who fail to maintain their rental units and exterminate pests up to the point of expropriation. Such policy commitments would substantially transform the housing landscape for tenants.
Achieving transformative change might not be accomplishable through simple formal election processes. For transformative change to happen we need to continuously work towards forming strong alliances that can rebalance the scales of power; we need to come together in mutual struggle and we need to build movements like the tenant movement we have right here in Kingston and of which Sebastian Vaillancourt, our Communist Party candidate, is a prominent member.
While Ted Hsu and Mary Rita Holland were sitting on a Conservative Mayor's handsomely-funded "Task Force on Housing" with a bunch of large landlords and developers ultimately coming up with recommendations that only suited the interests of those same corporations, Sebastian Vaillancourt was defending the
Belle Park Homeless encampment, providing encampment support for those chased away and around by the City's officers, he was serving burgers, cooking soup and making sandwiches for our unhoused neighbors and telling their stories through his brilliant audio podcasts and video documentaries.
Mary Rita Holland and Ted Hsu would like you to think that they care about housing issues and that their platforms are different from each other's and from that of the conservatives, but on Municipal level, they have shown very well that they can work tog
ether amicably with each other and the conservative Mayor in the interest of large landlords and developers. The only voice for tenants on offer in Kingston and the Islands is that of Sebastian Vaillancourt representing the Communist Party of Canada.