British Columbia

'We need to transform housing politics': Treating homes as commodities has caused crisis, sociology prof says

"People tend to talk about the housing problem almost as if it's the weather ... [like] a natural force. But it's obviously something that's created by political and economic projects and choices and clearly can be changed," says David Madden of the London School of Economics.

David Madden, a professor of sociology at the London School of Economics, spoke at SFU Tuesday

Sky-high rents, out-of-reach housing prices and overcrowded housing have become commonplace in Vancouver's real estate market in the past decade. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

If there's anything Vancouverites can agree on, it's that housing prices have spun out of control. But the way to get out of the housing crisis is another question. 

David Madden, co-author of the book In Defence of Housing: The Politics of Crisis and a professor of sociology at the London School of Economics, says the first step is acknowledging the crisis need not be permanent.

"People tend to talk about the housing problem almost as if it's the weather ... [like] a natural force. But it's obviously something that's created by political and economic projects and choices and clearly can be changed," Madden told host Stephen Quinn on CBC's The Early Edition

Madden says the housing crisis has been precipitated by a global movement toward treating housing as a commodity and as an object for speculation. This has hollowed out urban life, raised rents, led to more evictions and created huge increases in homelessness and overcrowding. 

Some have suggested increasing the supply of housing as a potential solution to the housing crisis, but Madden says it doesn't get at the root problem — which is distribution.

"It's a matter of who can access housing, not, 'are we producing enough?'" he said.

"You can easily imagine a scenario in which cities start producing huge numbers of new housing units but they just get controlled and monopolized by the wealthiest members of society and fed into the speculation machine.

"That's not going to help the problem."

No 'silver bullet'

While he admits there is no "silver bullet" to solve the housing crisis, there are many ideas from around the world that could start reversing the problem.

These include a rent freeze; a pied-à-terre tax where those with secondary homes in the city are taxed at a higher rate; restrictions on speculation; and stronger tenant rights.

"It's not a matter of 'we need to find the one magical policy,' so much as we need to transform housing politics so that the inhabitants of housing, the residents of housing, people who live in housing, and who need housing are the ones who are being privileged and the ones who are seeing their priorities met."

David Madden is giving a talk called "Home or Commodity? The Transformation of Housing and its Discontents" at Simon Fraser University on Tuesday at 7 p.m. PT. 

Listen to Madden's interview with Stephen Quinn:

David Madden, a professor of sociology at the London School of Economics, speaks at SFU Tuesday. 7:42

With files from The Early Edition

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