Cold Facts: While The Govts Snooze, The REITs Abuse And The Tenants Lose.

downtown Yellowknife, North-West Territories
Yellowknife, North-West Territories, Canada, home to a red hot rental housing crisis.

Any governments with housing responsibilities or any national housing activists with housing concerns should give a look to a CBC News four-part series on housing in the Canadian North. It is informative to those government agencies looking to off-load housing responsibilities to private enterprise, particularly those supporting low and no income citizens, (looking at you, HUD1). From Canadian experience, that has been a lose-lose proposition.

It all began in an array of “company” towns in Canada’s far North, in which the government was/is effectively “the company.”

To place this idea in context, consider resource-based communities starting up in the middle of nowhere (Canada has a great deal of nowhere, particularly in the North). A profitable extraction industry (oil sands, mining, water power, etc.) needs employees.

It’s in the interests of a company town to provide that housing as attractively as possible — even free — in order to keep its employees, as well as those who service the town’s physical, educational and recreational needs. Government? It inevitably comes along for the ride.

One day, the government wakes up and discovers IT is the biggest game in town. Maybe the local resource is tapped out and the resource extractor has departed. Maybe the Cold War has been cancelled and the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line station has closed down. Whatever the reasons, it is now in the government “company” interest to maintain housing along with all kinds of other structural and support services.

Are those governments pleased to be in charge? Like any modern neoliberal “small” government, of course not! What convenient private company can “do it better” and take over an array of government responsibilities including housing and business infrastructure, hospitals, and schools?

In Canada’s far north, this story begins with the formation of 90 North Construction, a company that developed specialized experience working and building in challenging arctic conditions.

From small beginnings in 1985, that company is now a part of a REIT2 that owns the lion’s share of rental properties across the far north, including public housing (HUD, with its RAD3 program to scrape public housing off its plate, please note).

And now, REIT investors on the far side of the earth can dictate how housing tenants, public and private, are treated, whether their homes are kept in good repair or not, whether they are offered a home for nominal rents or for exorbitant prices that force Northern Canadian tenants into housing insecurity.

Read Chapter 1 at CBC NEWS: The landlord’s game

Chapter 2: ‘It’s not OK’

Chapter 3: N.W.T. gov’t absent, yet enabling, as Northview grew

Chapter 4: Building and investment key to fixing Yellowknife rental market, experts say

Footnotes

  1. HUD:The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  2. Find a useful description of a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) here
  3. Try: What is RAD? Is It A Brave New Future For American Public Housing?

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