New report sheds light on the state of Winnipeg’s inner city

Winnipeg’s poorest residents continue to be caught between rising housing costs and falling income levels, according to a new report released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

But unlike past reports on what is happening in the inner city, the CCPA’s 2011 State of the Inner City report looks more deeply at why, taking aim at the influence of neo-liberalism on federal economic and social policies in recent decades.

The report, released Dec. 14 and authored by Lindsey Li, Sarah Cooper and Shauna MacKinnon, notes that employment income assistance rates have not kept up with inflation.

Today, an EIA cheque only buys 65 per cent of what it did in 1993.

“The proliferation of food banks is a direct consequence of insufficient EIA rates compared with rising housing costs, as EIA recipients dig into their food budgets to pay rent,” the report says.

“Although it now seems like it has always been this way, before the 1980s there were no food banks and very few homeless people in Canada.”

This is one effect of the trend in the ‘80s and ‘90s toward smaller government, deregulation, lower taxes and debt, and free trade, the report states.

The annual State of the Inner City report is a community-based research project intended to raise awareness about inner-city issues and the work of community organizations, said MacKinnon, director of the Manitoba office of the CCPA. 

Organizations also use the report in their own advocacy around government policy.

“(In the past), organizations really just wanted to talk about the work they were doing and the positive stories,” said MacKinnon.

But the report released in December took a new turn.

“This year, one of the things that came up right away was just the challenge. There are good things happening, yet so many people are still struggling so much.”

MacKinnon believes several factors are making it more “politically acceptable” to question neo-liberal assumptions.

There has been so much research done on the growing gap between the rich and the poor that it is not possible to ignore that reality, she said.

“And certainly the Occupy movement has raised attention… and certainly what’s been happening in the US in terms of the economy continuing to struggle.”

Joan Grace, a politics professor at the University of Winnipeg, agrees.

“In the late 1990s (and) the early 2000s, neo-liberal rhetoric and neo-liberal discourse from politicians and political parties was seen as actually quite legitimate, and necessary,” she said.

“But now ... more and more, the quote-unquote average Manitoban and Canadian are seeing this as not legitimate. There’s something severely wrong here.”

Grace said economic turmoil has made people more supportive of critiques and protests, but to what end remains to be seen.

“Policy change is an entirely different question,” she said. “It is much more long term.”

Clark Brownlee, coordinator of Right to Housing, sees federal policy at the root of Winnipeg’s housing crisis. Historically, he said, the federal government took action to prevent housing shortages.

However, in the ‘90s, that all changed, he said.

“In order to balance the budget, because the deficits were getting out of hand, the federal government basically stopped funding affordable and social housing,” he said.

He said the federal government could use tax incentives to make it profitable for private developers to build affordable housing.

Published in Volume 66, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 11, 2012)

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