Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the fantastic member for Vancouver East.
Like the member for Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, I was shocked to see that the Conservative motion is about housing. It is rare that we hear them talk about this subject. So much the better if their motion talks about housing because it is a real subject, a real issue and a real problem.
Does the motion present real solutions? That is another matter, and we can talk about it later.
Housing is a critical issue that affects thousands of people in Montreal, Quebec and across Canada. Obviously, my speech is going to focus on Montreal because that is where my riding is located. There is a real housing crisis in my riding. It is not the only place in Quebec that has been affected by the crisis, but it is one of the places that has been hardest hit by it.
The vacancy rate is approximately 1%, which is extremely low. That means that people do not have a lot of choices. Sometimes they are even forced to stay where they are because there are no other options available. Some housing units are dangerous and can jeopardize the health of their occupants. I will come back to that later.
As I was saying, the vacancy rate is really low. The delay regarding the Canada-Quebec agreement exacerbated the crisis. The federal government waited three years before releasing the funds and getting out the shovels and bricks to start real housing projects. Unfortunately, Quebec has been the last in line when it comes to housing.
The vacancy rate puts intense pressure on both the rental market and on home ownership. People are paying ridiculously high prices for housing. In Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, 74% of residents are renters. I recently saw a two-bedroom apartment going for $1,750 a month. A two-bedroom apartment cannot house a big family. Furthermore, I wonder what kind of job someone needs to have to be able to pay $1,750 a month. The average income is around $40,000 or $45,000 a year. Rent is, on average, $1,200 or $1,300. This puts a lot of pressure on workers, on the middle class and, obviously, the less fortunate.
Why is housing so important? It is because there are a few things we can do to help improve people's lives.
People need better working conditions. If someone earns more and inflation is not too high, they can increase their purchasing power. Higher wages are therefore a good thing.
The government can also use fiscal tools, such as taxes, to redistribute wealth and achieve greater equality within our society. One of the best ways to fight poverty and reduce inequality is to tackle the biggest expense for individuals, families and households. That biggest expense is rent.
Let us tackle that problem so we can really help people and lift them out of poverty. Maybe that just means giving them a little bit of a leg up to help improve their quality of life so they can take a vacation or go to a restaurant or the movies. When those activities are allowed, of course, but we all agree that it is coming.
Everyone knows that if a person spends more than 30% of their income on rent, they will end up poor and vulnerable. Right now, 20% of people spend more than 50% of their income on rent. In other words, one in five people spends more than half their paycheque on rent. That is outrageous. About 3,000 households or 6,000 to 7,000 people in Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie are in that situation. That is a lot of people.
As I said off the top, I was happy to read the Conservatives' motion. Then I started combing through it for a couple of words that turned out not to be there: “affordable” and “social”. The motion says nothing about affordable or social housing even though social housing in particular is the best way to help people get decent housing that is within their means. It is possible to create housing that costs people no more than 25% of their income, of their pay.
That makes a huge difference. It helps people in a tangible way. However, the Conservatives have disregarded this and have not included it among the options on the table, even if it is the best tool we have to help people and give them decent housing.
The Liberals occasionally talk about social housing, but they do not invest enough in it.
The Liberal plan, of which they are so proud, is to create 160,000 affordable or social housing units. I will get to what affordability means. The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness says that there is an urgent need to build 300,000 housing units in Canada. The plan in question, of which the Liberals are so proud, barely manages to offer half of what is needed to meet the needs of the population. Personally, I would not pat myself on the back as much as they do.
The NDP wants to go farther, faster. We want to make the kind of effort that has not been seen since the Second World War and build 500,000 new affordable social housing units in the next 10 years.
When we use the word “affordable”, we must consider certain criteria and be mindful of the definition. I will get right to the issue of affordability. As a matter of fact, depending on the definition, it can refer to some completely absurd situations. If our only criteria is that these units are rented 5% cheaper than the market average, which is exploding and reaching outrageous and ridiculous prices, we end up with housing that is considered “affordable”, but for which people need to have an outrageously high salary and an outrageously low standard of living.
According to the Liberal definition, in Ottawa, a unit that rents for $2,750 a month is considered affordable. The Liberal government thinks this is affordable for the poor and the middle class. I cannot wait to go door to door on this issue.
We need to be able to build housing outside the logic of the market. That is why the NDP puts so much emphasis on building social housing and co-operative housing, which is another way to deal with the housing problem. This goes beyond the single perspective of real estate developers, profits and business objectives. There is obviously room for a lucrative private real estate market. There is also nothing wrong with helping people get a better deal in the market and helping young families get into home ownership.
However, we must be able to keep a part of our real estate market outside the regular market. This would reflect the principles of public service, co-operation and mutual aid, and it would include housing co-operatives, for example, which are common in Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. These are great places to live, where people learn about co-operation, living together, sharing and local democracy. We have to continue to push in that direction.
We need to recognize that housing is a fundamental right and part of human dignity. For years now, the NDP has been introducing bills and fighting to have housing recognized as a right. That would make all the difference.
Speaking of making a difference, the federal government could still make a difference with investments and funding. I talked about 500,000 affordable social housing units, but there are also a lot of other things, such as working with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the CMHC, to make it easier for young families to access home ownership and to encourage the creation and maintenance of the co-op housing I was talking about.
We must also use federal land. There is federal land that is not being used and could be sold to private developers to build various projects. Why not set aside and use these federal lands to ensure that social housing is built, for example in the riding of Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs, in Montreal, where there are some very interesting sites? They should be set aside for social housing.
Locally, in Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, there is the issue of “renovictions”, when people are forced to leave their dwelling because of renovations. This does not fall under federal jurisdiction, but we must work with the provinces to come up with solutions.
As for housing safety and environmental health, I joined a protest near my office started by people who were unable to move out of their dwelling even though it contained mould and was dangerous for the occupants.
The La Petite Patrie housing committee is working extremely hard with regard to the construction of social housing close to the Bellechasse sector. The Rosemont housing committee is also working to have other properties designated entirely as community housing when new projects are built, which is interesting.
With regard to the former Centre de services scolaire de Montréal or CSDM building on Sherbrooke Street, the Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain, or FRAPRU, is asking that it be reserved for social housing.
I think that is an excellent idea and something we should consider.