On October 30th tenants of Hasan Yildiz’s rooming housing were evacuated by HRM by-law. Conditions in the rooming house were unlivable, with dangerous electrical wiring (and remnants in the walls that could only be detected with a stud finder), frequent flooding, a narrow staircase, bedbugs, and overcrowding. Yildiz at one point even rented out a dirt floor cellar with no ventilation and only a kerosene heater. This is what low income housing frequently looks like when provided by the private sector.
This evacuation occurred two days after the Department of Community Services issued rent allowance cheques, so Yildiz was able to pocket November’s rent from the now displaced tenants. Several days before, on October 28th, the Nova Scotia Liberals announced that they would be funneling $4.7 million of public money into the hands of private landlords through the creation of a new rent supplement program.
There is a lot of money to be made by exploiting poor people. The vast majority of funds distributed through Income Assistance ends up in the hands of slum landlords instead of people living in poverty. From local players like Yildiz to national corporations like TransGlobe/Metcap, some make fortunes off of collecting government money to provide housing to the poor. These businesses have one motive – to maximize profit – and with a steady rent cheque and no accountability, the conditions in the buildings quickly deteriorate.
With Federal Government funding for nonprofit, public and cooperative funding drying up and the Provincial Government’s commitment to subsidizing profits for private landlords, this is the future of affordable housing. Not public, not accountable, not livable.
Governments at all levels are now unwilling to limit even the worst results of a capitalist society. While reforms like public housing, income assistance and rent control will not undo capitalism, they improve conditions for workers (especially workers outside of wage labour) and prevent odious gouging by landlords.
The lesson of Hasan Yildiz is that the private sector is not the answer to affordable housing and that the only way to change these conditions will be through large numbers of poor people and their allies organizing for change.