Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Public Housing

In 2017, a Spectator reader contacted me to express concern that public housing units near her home seemed to be remaining empty for an unusual amount of time. I looked into it and was told by the Department of Municipal Affairs that, as of that June that year, 155 of the Cape Breton Island Housing Authority’s 3,254 units were empty. Of those 155 units:

62 [were] already “allocated to applicants from the eligible wait list” and are either “ready for occupancy or will be very soon.”

Ten units [were] currently available but either “have no applicants on file for the unit or no applicant has accepted the unit at this time.”

Of the remaining 83 units, roughly half [were] “currently in the process of being refurbished between tenants and will be re-rented once the work is complete.

Re-reading that answer in light of Auditor General Kim Adair’s recent report on the province’s oversight and management of government-owned public housing, I realize I should have pushed for a definition of “very soon” and questioned why, given there were “about 612” applicants on the waiting list for public housing at the time, there were “no applicants on file” for those 10 units.

NS Public Housing Infographic

Adair’s audit—which focused on the Halifax, Cobequid and Cape Breton regional housing authorities—found that while the turnaround target for an empty unit is 60 days, it is “consistently not met.”

For example, the average unit turnover in number of days for the province was 126 days in 2019 (4.2 months) and 151 days in 2020 (5 months). Through our
examination of new tenant placements, we found that that 44/60 (73%) of samples exceeded the turnaround time target.

In other words, the reader who contacted me five years ago was picking up on this problem with the system. And it’s not the only problem with the system, the CBC’s Tom Ayers has a good piece looking into another of Adair’s findings, namely that:

Cape Breton is performing “Google checks” on applicants to look for evidence of criminal offences. These searches were noted in the information system for 10/50 samples. The Executive Director of the Department indicated Cape Breton had previously been instructed to stop a similar process. The intention of this process would be to deny applicants with criminal records, which is not consistent with documented indications of ineligibility and could cause accusations of discrimination.

I have to stop here because if I don’t, I’ll end up writing an article instead of an item and articles are for Wednesdays, so stay tuned.

 

Cryptic crypto

I listened recently to two Canadian journalists discussing the cryptocurrency crash and wondering whether the mainstream media should have done more to highlight the dangers of investing in risky assets like Bitcoin and NFTs and I had to fight the urge to pull my own hair out in frustration.

Both began with the blithe confession that they, “like most journalists,” were no good at talking about crypto, one going so far as to say:

I guess it’s like the journalist’s thing where, like, you see math and you get really confused.

Leaving aside the question of what, exactly, people who are “really confused” by math can be trusted to cover (I guess any story involving an opinion poll, a statistic or a sum of money is off limits), my problem is that instead of ending the conversation at the point where they admitted they didn’t know what they were talking about, they kept on talking.

It was beyond pointless.

I don’t claim to understand the intricacies of blockchain technology but you don’t actually have to to understand why crypto and NFTs are dangerous investments—and you don’t have to rely on the mainstream Canadian media for information either. You can start by listening to Paris Marx’ Tech Won’t Save Us podcast. He’s done some great interviews about crypto, like this one with software engineer and crypto-skeptic Molly White, which I’ve talked about before:

Or this one with Ed Zitron, a PR professional (and crypto skeptic) who has written a detailed piece about crypto’s lack of purpose (“It is not replacing anything, nor is it doing a better job of anything.”)

And there’s always the New York Times‘ “Latecomer’s Guide to Crypto” or rather, the “edited” Latecomer’s Guide to Crypto, in which a group of about 15 cryptocurrency researchers and critics weigh in on reporter Kevin Roose’s piece.

I guess my answer to the journalists’ rhetorical question is YES mainstream media should have provided more critical coverage of cryptocurrency, but it didn’t and fortunately, there were—and are—sources other than the mainstream media to turn to.

 

Mick Lynch

Speaking of sources, I have found one of pure joy this past week, watching Mick Lynch, the head of the UK’s Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) workers’ union “making mincemeat out of politicians and broadcast interviewers alike,” leaving “a trail of stunned establishment hacks in his wake” and proving he’s “more than a match” for Britain’s (really quite awful) media.

RMT members are staging a series of one-day strikes over pay, jobs and conditions and Lynch, as the face of the union, has been all over the British media in recent days. There are a number of compilations of his appearances making the social media rounds but this will get you started:

 

I expect ministers in Boris Johnson’s government to be anti-worker, but I’ve found the obvious animosity of the media personalities—and the UK Labour Party—downright unnerving. Jeremy Gilbert, writing in the Guardian, offers an explanation for this that sounds about right:

…since the 1980s we have seen the consolidation of a professional class of senior managers, politicians and media operatives, who tend to share a culture and an outlook, whichever political parties or institutions they may be attached to. Its members tend to be socially liberal, but also utterly committed to the assumption that socialism, and even traditional social democracy, are political philosophies that died with the 20th century. This social group draws members from among the privately educated and from the most successful products of state education, and it occupies the positions of power in many institutions today: from the BBC to the parliamentary Labour party.

What it doesn’t tend to include is many committed trade unionists, many people whose vowel-sounds haven’t been honed at elite universities, or many who are willing to put corporate profits into question when giving interviews about the nature of price inflation.

And the result, I think, as it pertains to Lynch, is beautifully summed up in this tweet: