Mayor Gregor Robertson expressed his sympathies to the frustrations displayed by protesters who stormed his panel event stage at the City's re:address housing summit October 27.
The group of placard-wielding activists, from Alliance Against Displacement, burst into the summit's first panel event, which was in the midst of discussing solutions and policies used by other global cities to build and preserve sufficient affordable rental housing to meet demand.
Seemingly unhindered by any sign of security staff, the activists took to the stage, shouting "Tax the rich and house the poor, social housing now," "Stop the war on the poor, make the rich pay," "Action not words," "Homes not jails, windows not bars" and "77,000 homes; build them now." They also scattered flyers in the air, which read "F*ck the Experts: Build Our Homes Now."
Two visible security staff members then arrived and attempted to get the group off the stage, but were unable to do so, prompting the Mayor to tell the audience, "We're going to take a break, and you can listen to what these folks have to say." The Mayor and his panel participants exited the room until it had been cleared of protesters and all audience members.
The group's flyers stated, "Every single panel of today's summit is concerned primarily with the causes and solutions to the home ownership crisis... We don't care... Stop all demolitions of affordable rental housing." The activists seemed unaware that they had interrupted a discussion of methods for the retention and supply of affordable rental housing.
Acknowledging the protest when the panel discussion resumed, Mayor Robertson said, "I think many of us can agree with and share the frustrations expressed [by the protestors]. We are looking at ways to 'Tax the rich to house the poor.'"
The panel discussion continued with New York City housing commissioner Vicki Been, Toronto city councillor Ana Bailäo, San Francisco housing expert Kate Hartley and Vienna's former city planner Kurt Puchinger all sharing their experiences and challenges of retaining and increasing supply of affordable rental housing in their respective cities.
The panellists agreed that while increasing supply was a major factor in solving the problem, it was not sufficient on its own and other policy measures, including taxation, needed to be implemented.
Speaking after the panel event with REW.ca, Paul Kershaw, founder of affordability action group Generation Squeeze, said that he applauded passionate and vocal protests on housing, but added that it was important to direct protests at all levels of government. "The problem that with this particular protest is that we get very angry at our municipal governments, but often their hands are tied at the provincial and federal levels."