KW residents join Nationwide protest to draw awareness to the housing crisis

Layla Morrison, like thousands of others, is waiting. She and her partner have been waiting to get into affordable housing for nearly three years now and were told they will get a place in January. Still, she cannot believe that until she is in that home. 

“I’m low income, I come from a low income family. Housing [has] always been kind of rocky. I’ve been homeless and under-housed in the past,” Morrison said, adding that she has been given no reason to trust the January timeline that has been outlined.

“I would like to see improved housing, social housing, not only for my family, but for everybody else’s family. Everyone at least deserves the peace of mind that they know where they’re going to sleep that night and it’s going to be safe,” she said. 

Morrison, 23, is a DJ and organized the Waterloo Region housing crisis protest which was part of the nation-wide housing protest that originated from the r/canadahousingcrisis subreddit. Approximately 60 to 100 people gathered in front of Waterloo City Hall on Aug. 14 to raise awareness about the housing crisis in WR. They had three demands: build more homes, stop housing speculation and improve social housing. 

“It’s easier to put people into houses and homes if they physically exist,” she said. “Right now we’re sitting at ‘you don’t have enough houses and homes, apartments, units for the people that live in the city.’”

“I think if you really want to invest that bad, there’s the stock markets…you can trade, you can invest…But it’s not your asset, it’s a house with the family. And if you sell that, or trade that in whatever way, you’re potentially putting a family out on the street,” she said, referring to speculative investors

“To force somebody into that situation outside of their own terms. It’s kind of cruel and inhumane.”

The protesters followed COVID-19 guidelines and maintained physical distance. Still, there was room for new conversations and connections. Most importantly, the protestors were in front of Waterloo City Hall and could not be ignored by the decision makers that work there.

“We’re not politicians, it’s not our job. We have politicians that can do the job much better than us, we just need to tell them that we need this,” Morrison said.

If one wants to reach decision makers, they could write letters and emails and blog posts, but it’s a lot harder to ignore someone who is standing directly outside of your office.

“When you’re out front and you’re on the other side of their window, and you’re yelling, and you’re shouting, and there’s a speaker going…You can’t ignore that. We need to give them something they can’t ignore,” she said. 

In the eyes of Morrison, the lack of action and attention from decision makers is infuriating. The region has been aware of the inadequate level of available housing for years and not done enough to address it. 

Although various numbers have been thrown around, Morrison chooses to hold decision-makers accountable to the biggest number she has heard: $250 million for 2500 units.

“We can talk about change. And you can tell me your plans, and you can tell me what you’re going to do. But I can’t believe you until I see it,” Morrison said. 

“There’s currently 6000 families waiting. So over the next five years, they’re not even [reaching] a half of what is needed. And I’m sure there’s more for the 10 years, but it needs to be significantly more to make up for the deficit,” Morrison said. 

“You can see it in the charts…Community Housing is going down and the applicant line is going up,” she said. 

But we won’t see positive results until we see that those numbers are “intersecting the opposite way.”

Morrison got involved with the protest because she wanted to help however she could—she started out printing flyers, then offered her expertise as a DJ and eventually became one of the organizers. 

She provided music for the protest including some general background music as well as some tracks to which everyone could relate. 

She said she wanted to help in any way she could. 

Change is different for each of the cities that participated in the protest and WR residents know best what they need and what they want. As such, the protest has separated from the one organized on Reddit. Morrison said that it is easier for people to rally around a problem and so she wants to keep it simple with the three demands. 

She understands what works for the community for this protest and wants to continue building support and numbers. Change does not happen overnight and Morrison is in it for the long haul.

“We want to stick to the demands, because they’re simple. It’s easier for people to come together over a problem than it is for people to come together over the solution,” she said.

“We want to build numbers. We would rather just stick to the three demands: build more homes, stop housing speculation…improve social housing.” 

The next protest is happening on Sunday, Sept. 12 at1 PM at Waterloo City Hall.