Editorial: One leader knows a housing crisis when he sees it

West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country showed up this week on a list of the 20 worst ridings in the country for rental affordability. Out of Canada’s 338 federal ridings, ours came in at No. 13. Only two other B.C. ridings – Vancouver Quadra and Richmond Centre – were listed as more unaffordable for renters.

In the riding as a whole, the Canadian Rental Housing Index analysis found that half of renter households are living in an unaffordable situation (spending at least 30 per cent of their income on rent) and 28 per cent are “at a crisis level” (with rent consuming at least half of their income). On the Sunshine Coast, those numbers are much higher for single-mother households, with 75 per cent in an unaffordable situation and an alarming 52 per cent surviving at crisis level. With rents eating up such a high proportion of income, it should come as no surprise that the Sunshine Coast Food Bank is reporting a 30 per cent increase in registered households since the end of last year.

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The breakdown by federal riding was released during the election campaign to focus voters’ attention on the ongoing housing crisis and what actions the political parties are promising to take in response. All of the major parties have plans and strategies to make housing more affordable – for both renters and buyers – but it should be noted that only one leader, New Democrat Jagmeet Singh, has elevated the housing crisis to a national issue, as the National Post – not exactly a cheerleading organ for the NDP – pointed out last year.

Mr. Singh has raised the issue with a consistency and passion that sets him apart from his rivals. In an interview last December, he said “the fear and uncertainty around housing” was “the biggest thing that I hear across Canada, and not just in Vancouver and Toronto.” Speaking with a group of young people in Langford on Vancouver Island, almost all of whom stood up when he asked if they were concerned about housing, drove home “that it’s truly a national crisis,” he said.

His focus on housing has carried over into the current campaign with a pledge to build 500,000 “quality, affordable” housing units. This week he eviscerated Justin Trudeau’s housing plan, quoting the Parliamentary Budget Office’s findings that spending on affordable housing under the Liberal plan is 19 per cent less than the former Conservative government’s plan as a percentage of GDP.

Whether the NDP housing plan is the best for the country is certainly open to debate, but Mr. Singh’s efforts to make housing a critical issue in the election is not. It was therefore gratifying to learn this week that the NDP had named a candidate for the riding, one who actually lives on the Sunshine Coast. As one of the areas in Canada most deeply affected by the housing crisis, we can at least have some confidence now that the issue will get more than lip service in the local campaign.

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