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Housing activists eye provincial election to push for affordable housing

#HALT the madness rally set for Sept. 17 at VAG
halt justin fung
Justin Fung is a member of HALT — Housing Action for Local Taxpayers, which is staging a housing rally called #HALT the Madness at 2 p.m. at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Sept. 17. Photo Dan Toulgoet

Justin Fung, a tech worker in his mid-30s, is one of the organizers behind the HALT (Housing Action for Local Taxpayers) housing rally taking place at 2 p.m., Sept. 17, at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The group wants housing to be a top issue in the 2017 provincial election. Guest speakers include SFU professor Josh Gordon, lawyer Christine Duhaime, heritage activist Caroline Adderson and Generation Squeeze’s Paul Kershaw. Fung grew up in Vancouver and lives in a two-bedroom condo with his wife and pre-school-aged daughter. The Courier talked to him about the rally and his concern other residents are being pushed out of the city.

When did HALT form and who’s involved?

It’s been about a half a year. I’ve been the public face of HALT, but there are folks in the team who put in a huge amount of effort to get everything going like planning the rally. All of us are regular folks who have day jobs who have never planned a rally before. There are about five of us that are really actively involved and there’s several other folks on the fringes — people who’ve come out and said we really want to be involved, but as I mentioned, everybody has day jobs.

Is HALT affiliated with any other groups?

We certainly see ourselves as a sort of spiritual continuation to the work [Eveline Xia of #donthave1million] had done with her first couple rallies to bring this [issue] to light and say this is a problem and citizens’ voices need to be heard. We’re not affiliated with her, but we’ve taken a lot of advice from her and a lot of inspiration from her. The one group we’re most strongly affiliated with would be Generation Squeeze run by Paul Kershaw and Eric Swanson. We’ve signed their Homes First policy principle pledge.

Is HALT affiliated with any political parties?

HALT is a non-partisan group. Certainly, individuals have their own political leanings and we have conservations around politics and we have our views in terms of who we think are going to be most impactful in terms of making changes. There is a lot of anger and resentment towards the current governments simply because there’s been so little that’s been done.

Is HALT focused on renters or potential homebuyers?

We’re focused on both. Our stance is really [that] people who work here and want to live here can afford to do so. If you’re going to contribute to your community, if you’re going to contribute income tax to the tax base, you deserve to have an affordable home. That’s a really simple premise. Whether that’s a rental or whether you own a home, it doesn’t matter.

What’s the best case scenario?

Best case scenario is there are a reasonable amount of vacancies in the rental market, that renters are treated with respect by their landlords. Today, with the rampant home price increases and with the very little rental supply that’s out there, landlords have a lot of power and they’ve been evicting tenants in the name of trying to find someone who’s willing to pay higher rent. Those are things that should not happen. Talking about people getting into the housing market and buying, we want to see family-friendly homes that are realistic and affordable for people. Ultimately, we need to have solutions around foreign money distorting our markets and we need to deal with having the right type of supply coming on line so it remains a livable city and that young families have that opportunity to grow up in the city if they choose.

Do you have specific measures you’d like to see implemented?

The first step is to really deal with the foreign money. This is what has been driving everything else. It’s driven a lot of speculation, both foreign and local speculators in terms of our housing market. Our homes are being treated like piggy banks by a lot of foreign investors It’s madness that we’re doing that.

Are you not satisfied by a vacant home tax or a foreign buyers tax?

I’m concerned about their efficacy and whether they are targeting the right things.

A 15 per cent foreign buyers tax simply is an increased barrier to entry, but it’s a one-time tax. What we’d like to see, and one of the things we’ve been pushing very hard for, is the B.C. Housing Affordability Fund proposal put forward by Tom Davidoff where we would actually have a means check against a home that you own. So, a property tax surcharge that would be offset by income tax paid in Canada. That really speaks to what HALT is all about — housing action for local taxpayers. It’s to say we want equal ground. We want fairness in terms of trying to get into the housing market.

Will HALT endorse a political party for the next provincial election?

I’m not sure yet. If we got to a point where we felt that one of the parties is going to make the right decision, we may at some point. Our view is to make sure that all parties listen to our concerns and that they’re willing to address them. We are angry and resentful about a lot of the inaction that’s happened, but we have also seen that, perhaps through some of our advocacy, action is starting to be taken. This is turning into probably the number one election issue heading into May 2017. It really is about governments responding and doing the right thing.

This interview has been edited and condensed.