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Hundreds of anti-poverty activists march for housing in Toronto

Toronto- Hundreds of anti-poverty activists answered the call of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) to march for social housing and to protest the estimated $2.2 Billion CAD spent on the Pan American Games.

Rob Lyons

July 21, 2015
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Photo: Maddie Ritts, OCAP.

Defying police attempts to block the march, the anti-poverty militants, including a contingent from Socialist Action/Ligue pour le Accion Socialiste (SA/LAS), snaked its way along a route commencing in the St. James housing projects area, and invaded the Distillery District, a gentrified neighbourhood of expensive warehouse condominiums converted from the long closed Gooderham and Worts distillery complex.

The Distillery District is next door to the site of the Pan Am Games, and stands as a symbol of the growing lack of affordable housing, not only for the poor and homeless, but for a majority of working class families, and especially young workers. Combined, these two sites represent in a graphic way the incompatibility of a rentier system, an important component of speculative and fictional capital, to provide the necessities of life, in this case housing.

The OCAP is well known for its militancy and tactics of direct action. Its demands for the march expressed its desire to highlight the contradictions of a system which can squander billions of dollars on a bread and circus for the affluent, while denying the basics for human dignity.
The demands of affordable housing for all, for the conversion of the Athletes’ Village to social housing, for an end to the waste of taxpayers’ money on elite athletic events and for massive investment in social services, arising from the crowd of poor people flooding the area, was a contrast which horrified some of the residents. Reality had invaded their safe, bourgeois space.

Activists pointed out that while the city of Toronto could afford to spend $3.8 million for a bridge leading to the Games’ site, at the same time they shut down a 124 beds in the Hope Shelter for the homeless. They also pointed to the fact that the Athletes’ Village housed 10,000 people, so why were only 243 units scheduled for affordable housing after the Games ended, given the need for tens of thousands of housing spaces.

The question of affordable housing is one which affects all major urban areas throughout the globe. The buying of urban housing by speculators, made easy through the standardization of financing and real estate practices, have made the purchase of housing for investment purposes a global phenomena. Whether it is the river view apartment in the Recoleta district of Buenos Aires, the posh townhouse in West End London, the False Creek condo in Vancouver, or the warehouse conversion in the Distillery District, the massive speculative investment in housing has had a “push down” affect.

As the price of housing which would have formerly been utilized by the middle classes rises beyond their reach, they turn to housing which is more affordable, housing which would have been utilized by working class families. This forces the working class into ever poor quality of housing, and forces those who were occupying this space, the poor on social assistance, out into the streets due to the lack of spaces which they can afford to occupy.

The result is the artificial rise in housing prices, a phenomenon easily seen in the speculative fools’ paradises of Vancouver and London, where the purchases of housing spaces by wealthy offshore investors have made these cities unaffordable to all but the wealthiest first time home buyers. The other side of the coin is, of course, the mass evictions seen in the aftermath of the bursting of this speculative bubble, as have taken place in Spain and the United States.

The need for a planned and massive investment in housing for all, to take housing out of the market-driven imperatives of speculative capital and place it in the democratic control of the population, has never been more needed. Helping to build a militant and mass movement to bring this to fruition is one of the priority tasks of socialists.

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Rob Lyons

Rob Lyons joined the Canadian section of the USFI in 1971, after a stint as a journalist who covered the Prague Autumn of 1968, and as political organizer for the New Democratic Youth, the left wing youth group of the Canadian labour party based on the trade unions. Until recently, he was the International Coordinator for Socialist Action/Ligue pour lÁction Socialiste, a Canadian Trotskyist organization excluded from the EUSecFI, and in that capacity attended the founding conference of the Tendency for a Revolutionary International. He has been a wilderness and air ambulance pilot, a trade union organizer, and elected union leader, and for 10 years was an elected member of the Saskatchewan, Canada, provincial legislature representing a heavily unionized, working class constituency. He presently writes political commentary and organizes from a working class barrio in southern Costa Rica.

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