We hear a lot these days about the need for ‘affordable’ housing. A recent opinion piece from the building industry talked about an Ontario inclusionary zoning regulation introduced in April 2018. It allows for municipalities to “introduce planning requirements for the inclusion of affordable housing in new residential developments.” It goes on to say, “The basic premise is a partnership between developers, builders and municipalities to encourage the construction of affordable housing units that would not otherwise be built.” (emphasis added) And finally, the climax: the cost of creating ‘affordability’ is actually achieved through a subsidy from taxpayers – “Inclusionary zoning can only work as a remedy or solution for affordable housing when an equitable cost-sharing agreement is in place between the building industry and municipalities.”
I was suddenly struck by a basic question: Why is the development industry building unaffordable housing? Why do we need a planning regulation to require ‘affordable’ housing? How has the vaunted ‘free market’ gotten so twisted out of shape that a ‘cost-sharing’ subsidy is needed to provide a basic necessity like shelter? Really, the housing issue is just a symptom of a much, much bigger problem. Inclusionary zoning is an ineffective band-aid solution.
We have a peculiar situation where globalism has pitted societies against each other, sending jobs to low wage countries, cutting corporate taxes and making other concessions to keep what jobs remain. It has created enormous income disparities within and between countries, increasing poverty and the unaffordability of everything, while a small international elite controls the bulk of global wealth. According to Oxfam, in 2017, just eight individuals control wealth that exceeds the wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population, i.e. – 3.6 billion people!
Governments, like the current Ontario government, help to magnify the risk of poverty by stifling social reforms like minimum wage, basic income, and labour organizing. They magnify the negative impact of corporations by reducing their taxes, and financial, labour, and environmental oversight. (Canadian banks save $60 million per quarter from Trump’s U.S. tax reduction which cost the US treasury about $1.5 trillion).
It doesn’t have to be this way. But our societies need a major overhaul. Muhammad Yunus, Nobel prize winner, founder of micro-credit and ‘banker to the poor’, has written a new book, A World of Three Zeroes – The new economics of zero poverty, zero unemployment, and zero net carbon emissions. At the core of his philosophy is a requirement to free ourselves from the oppressive idea of greed as the sole objective of corporations. He is counting on the next generation of youthful leaders to turn things around. Let’s hope he succeeds.