Motion 71: One solution to the housing crisis

We are in a housing crisis, and it has and will continue to define our community over the coming years.

From young people unsure if they’ll be able to live in our community when they move out of their parents’ homes, to seniors renting on fixed incomes, to healthcare workers who tell me they can’t afford to live in our community as housing becomes more and more unaffordable.

  • We have tripled the number of people experiencing homelessness in our community: there were 1,085 people who were unsheltered in Waterloo region in 2021, up from 333 people in 2018!
  • Housing is increasingly unaffordable: the average cost of buying a home has soared from 3x average wages in 2005, to 8x annual wages today. House prices have gone up 275% while wages have only increased 42%
  • Waitlist for a 1 bedroom in affordable housing was almost 8 years in 2017
  • Average rent for a one bedroom in Kitchener was reported to have increased from $1,501 to $1,723 from January to August of this year alone

Across all levels of government, we need urgent action.

It’s why as the Member of Parliament for Kitchener Centre, I’ve advocated since elected over a year ago for the federal government to not only increase its level of investment in quality, dignified, and affordable housing, but to address the underlying conditions that have led us to this crisis.

The fact is that homes should be places for people to live, not commodities for corporate investors to profiteer from. We need to change the rules of the market to align with this approach – instead of a market that currently encouraged the financial commodification of our homes.

Over the summer, I brought forward this petition, and have since put forward Motion 71 on the floor of the House of Commons: a tangible, simple, and measured suggestion to help address the crisis that I believe other MPs from all parties can support.

Motion 71 follows the advice of several national and local studies: that one obvious change that would help is removing a tax exemption enjoyed by one type of corporate investor, real estate investment trusts (REITs).

Up until 1996 REITs didn’t own any rental units across the country. Today, they own nearly 200,000. In fact, institutional investors across the country today own between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of our country’s purpose-built rental housing stock. In our community and others across the country, REITs buy affordable housing and quickly increase rent prices, making it more difficult for residents to afford a place to call home.

REITs are in housing not for what they can contribute, but for what they can take out of it – the largest return possible. So, let’s tax them fairly, and use the revenue generated to invest in affordable housing.

That’s what Motion 71 calls for – along with support for antitrust laws to prohibit one property owner from taking over an entire community, creating a housing monopoly.

When I’ve raised this motion with the Minister of Housing (example here), the reply I’ve received is that the governing party would like to study it further before taking action. This is not a good faith response. Here are studies that already recommend what I’m proposing:

As a result, many civil society organizations are recommending or calling for the same measures, in addition to those above: Citizens for Public Justice, Canada Without Poverty, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Alternative Federal Budget,  Waterloo Region YIMBY, and The National Right to Housing Network.

The measures in Motion 71 weren’t included in the Fall Economic Statement, so I’m continuing pushing for it to be included in Budget 2023.

To build support for the measures in Motion 71, I’ve asked dozens of MPs – including those in neighbouring ridings – to joint second this motion. The more joint seconds we get, the more likely the governing party is to take this idea and run with it!

If you’d like to help, you can email your MP (their email address follows the firstname.lastname@parl.gc.ca convention) and tell them you’d like them to support Motion 71, and/or that you’d like to speak with them about your views on the housing crisis.

You can also sign a petition I’m sponsoring that makes a similar ask.

While Motion 71 won’t solely address the housing crisis, it’s one measure that would help, and it’s reasonable enough that it should be widely supported across all parties.