Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to be involved in the debate on Bill C-66 which deals with the very critical issue of housing, something that we believe has been left behind in national debates and has not had the attention it truly deserves.
Canada is probably the only developed nation in the world that does not have a national housing strategy. This is shameful. We are feeling the impact of it now in our cities, in our rural communities and in our northern communities. We are seeing the predictable consequences of not having any strong national standards or strong national plan in terms of providing clean, affordable housing for Canadians who cannot take part in the mainstream of the real estate market.
We have just heard the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan advocating strongly that this matter should be left to the free market, that if we let industry take care of it without government interference the market will take care of itself and provide an adequate number of units to meet the needs of people all over the country. If we take a serious look around, I would argue that is clearly not the case. We have failed the people waiting for clean, affordable housing by leaving it up to the market.
I am not blaming the private sector. I am merely pointing out that in some marketplaces, like my own riding of Winnipeg Centre, it is simply not economically viable to get involved in low income housing as a private landlord.
Landlords have been making representation to provincial governments and the federal government saying that this is so, that they simply cannot make a buck on it because of aging housing stock and the amount of rents they can charge. It just does not add up. Frankly they have been letting it go.
What we have is a ghettoization in the inner city of Winnipeg. I am not proud of this but the riding I represent has terrible aging, crumbling housing stock with landlords who no longer want it. One of our biggest problems is that these landlords cannot turn a buck on it. They cannot afford to pay for the necessary renovations so the houses are catching fire. There have been 85 fires in the last 3 months in a 12 square block area, 85 arsons in the last 3 months. This is an urgent situation. It is not a safe situation.
One reason we know it is arson and not some coincidence is when the firemen come to put the fire out, they find big holes cut in the first and second floors to allow the convection of the smoke and the flames in order to more seriously level the house rather than just damage it. It is a real hazard for the firemen who walk in and cannot see their hands in front of their faces for the smoke and who are then faced with four square foot holes cut in the floors. It is my feeling landlords are giving kids $50 and an address on a piece of paper and saying torch this house because it is a burden and a liability to them.
That is the desperation the private sector has found itself in in terms of trying to provide affordable housing in that market. As a result we have thousands of families that would happily move into some kind of social housing project within the city of Winnipeg. We have literally thousands on the registry looking for housing. It is not being built. It is not going up anymore.
This is another issue on which I think we are missing the boat. As a carpenter by trade I have built a lot of houses. I have built a lot of houses in the riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan, the riding of the last speaker. We all know what an engine for economic growth it is to have a healthy construction industry. There is a pent up demand for thousands and thousands of units. I do not have to go through the details of how many jobs that would entail, not just the actual trades people but all the building materials that go into it.
During the 1980s under Mulroney the Tory government pulled the rug out from underneath what we used to think of as the co-op housing program and other social housing initiatives. Had we not allowed that to happen and had the Liberals not allowed it to carry on, we would have built 75,000 more units in the country. That is the prediction. That is the pent up deficit. We got shortchanged by the 75,000 units of clean affordable housing that would have been built in our inner cities.
I will talk more about the need in my riding of Winnipeg Centre. A group of neighbours formed a housing co-op to try to take care of my own street. This was not because we needed housing since we all owned our own homes. We wanted to buy up some of the slum properties on my street and either tear them down or renovate them and put them back into the hands of families that needed them. We called ourselves the Ruby Housing Co-Op since we were on Ruby Street.
We did the research on one of the units we were trying to tear down and found out who the people really were and what kind of business it really was. The guy who owned this property owned 250 other units all through numbered companies and all through rings of other slum landlords to the point where one landlord might subcontract 10 units from the parent slum landlord. The landlord might owe the parent landlord $1,000 per month per unit and be able to keep the rest. The onus is on the landlord to stuff that slum unit full of so many welfare people that the landlord will get more than $1,000 and the profit is the difference.
We had a house on our street zoned R2T. You are allowed to have a duplex or transition, but a duplex at best. There were 17 units stuffed into a house rated R2T. To get to one person's bedroom you would have to walk through another person's bedroom. City welfare is paying for all these rooms. At $237 a month for each room times 17 rooms, he would be giving the slum landlord $1,000 and keeping the rest. His main interest is just stuffing that place full of the most disreputable people you would ever want to meet, people who were our neighbours.
That is what motivated us to start doing some research and finding out who these people were. I will not use the individual's name here but he is one of the wealthiest, well known businessman in the city and I have every reason to believe that when he is at a cocktail party and someone asks him what he does for a living he says he is in real estate. He does not say he is a slum landlord which is what he should say because we know how he makes his living.
I was not pointing at anybody in particular on the other bench.
There are some bright lights. People are reacting to and dealing with the pent up shortage of housing in the inner city of Winnipeg. The Lion's Club, to its credit, is buying up gang houses and crack houses in the inner city and putting training programs on for inner city welfare kids who then renovate these homes and put them back on the market at low interest loans. It has been a good project. We are dealing with one or two units at a time.
That is also my criticism of Habitat for Humanity. Frankly, as much as I appreciate the volunteerism and all the goodwill, it is dealing with five or ten units at a time in a city that needs thousands of units. If we put the same amount of energy and volunteerism into lobbying for a social housing program through the federal government maybe we would be putting 500 units a year into the city, or 2,000 units a year, somewhere at least reasonably close to the actual need.
The issue is not just limited to the inner city of Winnipeg, although, as I say this, donut shaped city phenomenon is certainly happening to us as it is happening to other major cities. They are building good quality homes in the suburbs and going through all the cost of delivering services to those high end homes while letting the inner city rot.
The inner city is burning, frankly. It looks like the late 1960s in American cities. It is like burn baby, burn. These people are torching their homes out of desperation. It is Watts, Detroit or something. That is what it looks like. Every night these people are voicing their discontent by torching houses.
It is interesting to hear the Reform Party member say that government has no role to play here. In this example one would have to be ideologically driven with blinders on to even intimate that government has no role to play in at least setting the stage to provide for clean affordable housing for people who live in this country. It is a basic right. We have just heard the member for Vancouver East speak very passionately about the United Nations declarations while recognizing the plight of homeless people as a national disaster.
I am very proud that our housing critic, the member for Vancouver East, toured the country recently and went to just about every major city and wrote a very good report on her findings on homelessness and substandard housing. That was the theme and it was not just people with no homes whatsoever, it was clearly about people living in inadequate housing.
From the front page of the report I will read a brief quote. I think she made reference to it in her remarks. It was written by the finance minister when he was in opposition. It was the way he felt when he was lambasting the Tory government for its woeful inadequacy in addressing this problem: “The government sits there and does nothing. It refuses to apply the urgent measures that are required to reverse this situation. The lack of affordable housing contributes to and accelerates the cycle of poverty, which is reprehensible in a society as rich as ours”.
It is an excellent quote. I could not have said it better myself because a lack of adequate housing is both a cause and a consequence of poverty. It is one of those things that comes at us from both ends. We do not have to go through all the social aspects of adequate housing but we can imagine a young family trying to get on its feet or trying to keep kids on a straight and narrow direction if they grow up in absolute desperation in terms of their housing situation.
I have raised this in the past. There is a group in Winnipeg called Rossbrooke House. It is a safe house for inner city street kids. They can drop in and have some place to hang out where they are not at risk or getting into trouble. It is run by two catholic nuns, Sister Leslie and Sister Bernadette. They do a wonderful job. The member for Vancouver East and I visited the safe house as part of the study.
One of the things pointed out to us was that the people who live in that area in often terribly substandard housing will not sleep in the outer rooms of their house. They will sleep only in the inner rooms of their house like the den or the living room because of the gunfire every night. They will not sleep next to an outside wall. These two sisters pointed this out to us as being the reality people in that neighbourhood live with.
The reason I raise this is the biggest challenge they have in trying to deal with the problem youth who come through their doors is making them feel safe somewhere. One cannot work with a kid if that kid does not feel safe and trusting.
These kids all exhibit physical characteristics that are common among people who never feel safe wherever they are. If they are at home with a substance abuse parent they never know if they will get hugged or swatted on the head. They are insecure about that. When they are on the street they are not safe so they are always spinning around looking to see if someone is going to jump them.
These kids have nervous ticks. It is hyper acuteness and they are fearful of their environment. I say this is largely due to the fact that even when they are at home, if it is not a secure setting, they can never relax. It could be a 10 year old kid on pins and needles all the time. These women work with these street kids who have these nervous characteristics that we see so often. Their argument again is that housing is the second biggest problem in terms of rehabilitation of these kids.
I have been involved in this issue for quite some time, first as a carpenter building houses. I know the value of the industry. I know a great deal about the technical side of housing, whether it is multifamily or single family units. As the president of a housing co-op I have been actively engaged in trying to get the resources together to build clean, affordable housing.
What we should point out is nobody is asking for any handouts in this regard. When social housing used to be built the numbers still had to crunch. A business plan had to be put together to prove that the revenue coming in would meet the debt service to the loan. The only favour the government would do was provide 0% down or 100% financing and it would be amortized over a longer period of time, maybe 35 years rather than 25 years. That is not some kind of handout.
That is not to say here is $2 million, build 40 units of social housing. The applicant group, usually an ethnic group or a group of like minded people who come together and put together a proposal to build social housing, has to sit down and crunch the numbers. It has to figure out the bridge financing, the hard costs of the construction, the soft costs and the debt servicing on the loan, add all those things together in a total package and find a rent people can afford and be able to meet the debt service.
It all gets paid back. This was the beauty of CMHC's many housing programs that have been gutted and cut and offloaded to the provinces. There was no kind of handout. It was an empowering kind of thing where citizens were taking their housing needs into their own hands and learning about running a business plan and executing the actual building of this project and then managing it for many years afterwards with some kind of tenant association.
It is a very positive thing. It is a very community building thing. It is not any type of government handout. When I listen to the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan trying to make it sound that any kind of social housing is some kind of government handout, he clearly does not know a great deal about the programs that have been cut.
We are very concerned that Bill C-66 will put the final nail in the coffin of any hope to have a national housing strategy. We are very concerned that this pushes it just that much further to privatization of social housing. Who knows what kind of free marketers will swoop in and take this over.
We have seen what happens when things turn bad, when profit motive is the only reason for doing something. As soon as it is a little less than profitable, they turn their backs on it. These units are torched or they erode to the point where nobody should be living in these units. It is a time honoured expression where I come from that capital has no conscience.
Let us face it. It is the government's job to inject some conscience into the whole picture of providing social housing. Other countries such as Chile are leaps and bounds ahead of Canada.
I do not usually blow Chile's horn. It is not my favourite place because of its checkered history, although it seems to have cleared that up. It is building 200,000 units of social housing. It is nice that a Canadian company is signing contracts to build the first ones now. It will move a whole plant down to Chile and use Canadian building materials such as drywall and shingles, the whole shooting match, as well as Canadian expertise and technology.
The reason for that market for Canadian housing technology is that Chile has the vision to upgrade building stock. It realizes that over the years it has let it slide. Free marketers were not providing the necessary units. There will be a couple of thousand now and many more thousands next year, for a total of 200,000 units of social housing for Chile. In Canada it is zero. Since 1993 there has been nothing.
In an earlier intervention I mentioned the member of parliament I defeated in the riding of Winnipeg Centre. He joined my housing co-op just to demonstrate that he was sensitive to the issue. He was elected in 1988 and fought the Tories in their gutting and dismantling of the social housing system. In 1993 when it became a campaign promise he was a little taken aback, to be fair, that his government would not reintroduce any social housing. That became abundantly clear as 1993-94 went by and nothing was being done. From 1995-96 to this date all we have seen is a downward slide in this regard. He was probably as disappointed as we were.
My biggest insight into the condition of social housing in my riding was while knocking on doors for other candidates during the 1988, 1990 and 1993 federal elections and then in 1997 for my own campaign. I could walk down the same streets and knock on the same doors and see the dramatic slide in the condition of the building stock. There was no hope for property in that area. One could buy a pretty good little house for $10,000 to $15,000. It had no real value.
When a community is in decline like that it is very hard to pull it back up. That is why no private sector housing initiative will be viable without social housing being introduced and managed by the federal government.