Houses for All: The Struggle for Social Housing in Vancouver, 1919-50

By Jill Wade | Go to book overview

5
Responding to the Housing Problem in the 1940s: The War on Canada's 'Number One Emergency'

Throughout the 1940s, the federal government prescribed a variety of remedies intended to ease the severity of the housing problem in Canada. In order to expedite the war effort and reconstruction, it first initiated temporary relief for the immediate emergency and later provided permanent market housing programs to fuel the postwar economy and increase housing supply. Still, Ottawa's unilateral action did not sufficiently ameliorate the deteriorating residential conditions in Vancouver.

Dissatisfied with the federal reaction, social activists increasingly responded through a wide range of organizations to Vancouver's worsening housing situation. Some activist groups attempted to eliminate the crisis faced by homeless veterans. Other organizations, many of which had participated in the social housing campaign of the 1930s, worked to correct both the chronic need for low-income dwellings and the temporary shortage in accommodation. Relatively quiet at first, the activists collectively gained strength as a movement by 1944 and commanded wide public support by 1946. Despite opposition from a vocal element of real estate interests, lenders, and builders, they effectively urged governments at all levels to make improvements in housing conditions. They attributed the major responsibility for resolving the housing problem to the federal government, but they also pressed the civic and provincial governments for change. They achieved an evictions freeze, emergency shelters, continuation of rent controls, and the construction of some rental units for veterans. In the end, local activists joined with national forces to obtain amendments to the NHA that made possible Little Mountain, the first public housing development in Vancouver.

The accomplishments of these activist groups were too often tempo-

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