Canadians take many things for granted.  Our natural resources have allowed a high standard of living for the past 50 years, but that is rapidly changing. Today we are tied to the world economy and are part of  a very competitive global market. Other countries have high levels of knowledge and expertise especially in manufacturing.  Canadian expectations for basic needs at a reasonable cost in; food, clothing, shelter, transportation, healthcare and education are being challenged on many levels. When the healthy corporate tax revenue rates drop it undoubtedly falls to small businesses and individuals to pick up the shortfall or accept a loss in public services. Whereby all income groups are affected but some more than others, in particular older persons on fixed incomes, the vulnerable on disability and our youth who cannot find permanent well paying jobs. Lately university graduates are finding fewer opportunities in their field of study and desired job.  With this as a backdrop, the pressure on sustainable housing for all is enormous!

For example Alberta and particularly Calgary is undergoing an enormous transition after the structural shift in their own resource sector. With nearly full employment and a lower than national average tax environment, the young dynamic thriving masses felt they could build a secure future for their families. The glittering downtown towers spoke to the flamboyant business prospects for decades to come. There was no need to depend on municipalities, provincial or federal governments to help in nurturing continued growth.

Today, an abrupt halt! Over 20 high-rise buildings in downtown Calgary are empty, corporate tax revenues dropped dramatically and City Hall is eyeing small businesses, homeowners and apartment landlords as sources of new money. “Rainy Day” funds are depleted and it’s no secret.

The Honourable Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole recently stated: If this would have happened in Toronto or Montreal, this news would have occupied headlines for weeks.

This drastic shift is affecting our elder, and vulnerable population who are being squeezed out of the housing market. Many are searching for immediate solutions with little security to be found. Relocating is the most stressful time in a person’s life, now add to that a highly competitive real estate market and increased living costs to the mix. We can’t close our eyes to the facts of a decade of ballooning wealth for the top 10% so we do not all bear the cost of our citizens experiencing homelessness due to the lack of rental accommodations. The repeated announcements of empty shelves at our local food banks are glaring indications of Canada’s newly darkened economic security structures and in the surging demand for local church food hamper programs. How each Province fares in the sudden sharp increase in real estate activity has an overall impact on Canada’s well being, our social determinants of health. The need to take care of our people must be a national priority.

Albertans, for example, are relying more on all levels of government for financial assistance while unprincipled lenders take on predatory schemes to foreshadow the fear of homelessness. We need sound public policies for temporary rent controls to get us through this pandemic era shamelessly. Possibly renewed longer term CO-OP incentives established for private developers to build affordable housing and further organized by not for profits. Similarly, after a 5 year delay, Calgary City Council with Calgary Economic Development, the Chamber of Commerce and civic organizations recently developed a 10 year plan to eliminate homelessness and now give incentives to convert office towers into affordable housing. With political will so much can be done!

All levels of Government are co-operating in creating the economic pool to make necessary improvements through the National Housing Strategy to build/re-purpose affordable housing for older persons who now need more help than ever. We shout Kudos!

It is essential and we beg our Federal Government become more involved in the overview of rental markets in Canada recognizing the need for regional adjustments to help our population maintain reasonable tenancy. Cooperation with provincial/municipal governments and cities is imperative to set aside sufficient funding to encourage necessary land leases and cut red tape to allow for affordable housing for older persons to age in place. The time has come for a national (political) will to support our elders to live independently, develop home assistance programs and transitional models for community assisted living centers. Otherwise the age wave will hit us unprepared and wreak havoc on our economy as we try to catch up. There is no time to waste!

Manfred Merkel, Housing Representative of the National Pensioners Federation