Reports / Articles
Paul Martin's Solution to Canada's Housing Problems
Martin Needs to Heed the Homeless: Finance Minister Should Recall Own Words From Past, Toronto Star, February 2000"Housing: The Cause of and... a Potential Solution to Poverty in Canada," Chapter 3 of Paul Martin and Joe Fontana, Finding Room: Housing Solutions for the Future, Report of the National Liberal Caucus Task Force on Housing, Ottawa, 1990.
The Toronto Star
Stephen Hwang, a University of Toronto professor of medicine and epidemiologist at the
F.K. Morrow Inner City Health Research Unit of St. Michael's Hospital, tracked 9,000
homeless men from 1995 to 1997. He identified more than 200
deaths - about three deaths every two weeks.
- Cathy Crowe is a street nurse working with homeless people.
From TORONTO STAR, Wednesday, October 7, 1998 p.A27
Imagine for a moment that Canada had a national plan for addressing its growing housing problems.
It would assert the human right to adequate housing, recognize the plight of Canada's homeless population, comment on the urban and rural living conditions of our aboriginal people, analyze the lack of new affordable rental housing and its effect on tenants, and describe the difficulties of low-income homeowners.
It would state firmly that "the federal role in housing must not be a residual one" because the "connection between housing and other aspects of both social and economic policy means that the federal government must take a lead role."
It would declare that "affordable housing has become an increasingly unattainable goal for too many segments of our population."
It would acknowledge that our "market housing system has not responded adequately to all of society's needs," that "all Canadians have the right to decent housing, in decent surroundings, at affordable prices," and that there "is currently a vacuum in federal
policy and direction."
It would make a number - let's say 25 - of specific recommendations.
It would demand that the federal government be the "vigorous leader of [these] comprehensive efforts" because "only the national government has the financial resources to address the full dimensions of the needs of this country."
There is no need to imagine it. It exists already, in a 50-page national housing blueprint written by Paul Martin - yes, that Paul Martin, our minister of finance - and MP Joe Fontana. It is called Finding Room: Housing Solutions for the Future, Report of the National Liberal Caucus Task Force on Housing.
It was released after extensive national consultation in May 1990. Its analysis and 25 recommendations form an excellent basis for a comprehensive national housing strategy.
In it, Martin complains that "the primary goal of Conservative housing policy has been to cut the deficit" and that "the Conservative government is unable or unwilling to address the issue in a meaningful fashion."
Yet within a few months of taking office, the Liberal government withdrew completely from its role in social housing, making Canada the only Western nation - perhaps the only nation anywhere - to do so.
At about the same time, the United Nations condemned Canada for failing to address poverty and housing problems in a 1993 report on Canada's compliance with the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Canada had signed and agreed to implement this covenant in 1976.
Worse yet, the Liberal government began in earnest to pass to the provinces and territories full responsibility for the existing stock of social housing, directly contradicting the recommendations of its own pre-election housing task force.
Canada's housing problems are now much worse than they were in 1993. The indicators are easy to catalogue. There is virtually no new private-sector rental housing construction in the country. Only a couple of provinces build a few social housing units each year. The real income of renters has fallen dramatically during the 1990s.
The result? More and more homeless people. Young people and young families are filling emergency shelters. Women with children now make up about 40% of Toronto's emergency shelter users. About 5,000 individual children use Toronto's emergency shelters each year.
Adequate housing and housing-related support services for all Canadians are well within our nation's financial means. The combined annual spending on housing assistance by all levels of government in Canada is about 1% of their budgets. Spending another 1% would not affect the well-being of taxpaying Canadians.
The scope and scale of homelessness is a national health, housing and human rights disaster. Our nation's housing problems are the predictable result of private and public sector policies. We can and must reverse the trend.
The process can only start, as Mr. Martin noted eight years ago, with a commitment by the national government. Let's dust off those copies of Finding Room: Housing Solutions for the Future. We could begin by implementing recommendation #14, which requires the federal government to "convene at the earliest possible date, a National Housing Forum to discuss the development of a national housing policy and related strategies ... aimed at alleviating the housing crisis in Canada."
David Hulchanski is a professor of housing and community development at the University of Toronto and a member of the board of directors of Raising the Roof: Solutions for Canada's Homeless.
Paul Martin and Joe Fontana
HOUSING: The Cause of and... a Potential Solution to Poverty in Canada
"For most of us Canadians, life without a home is almost beyond imagining. What you have essentially is what you can carry in your Sobey's bag... it reduces them to another level of existence. Everyday the homeless need to find-a way to put food in their bellies or survive another night. They are regularly assaulted and if you are young, regularly raped. They are utterly and completely alone, vulnerable, powerless. They are nobodies -- they are nameless --voiceless. What you and I should imagine is what it would be like to lose absolutely everything, so that you do not even have someone to call up." Father Peter McKenna, SCJ Hope Cottage, Halifax, Nova Scotia, October 5, 1989
Homelessness is only the most visible manifestation of Canada's housing crisis. Though homelessness affects a relative small percentage of Canadians, it is a reality which is symptomatic of a broader crisis in the supply of affordable housing. More than a million households low-income families the working poor, single-parent families, minorities and the elderly -- and special needs groups -- ex-psychiatric patients, ex-offenders, the physically and mentally handicapped, substance abusers, youth and battered women -- suffer affordability and sub-standard housing problems. The Task Force was told that though affordable housing is in desperately short supply across the country, the major contributing factor to the current crisis is poverty. Substandard housing is often the most visible result of poverty in Canada. Millions of Canadians live in poverty and struggle from month to month simply to pay the rent Homeownership for low- and moderate-income Canadian families has become a fanciful dream.
The following remarks were echoed across the country. "The main cause of the housing crisis in Canada is poverty. Poor Canadians are forced to choose between paying the rent and feeding their family. The firstline of attack on the housing problem is assuring a decent income for all Canadians. The second is a much stronger government commitment to increasing the supply of low-cost housing." Mr. Terrence Hunsley, Executive Director Canadian Council on Social Development, Ottawa, October 16, 1989
The scars of poverty cut particularly deeply into children; poor kids do not have the opportunity to play minor hockey, join the community swimming club or take tennis and piano lessons. In Canadian society, a home allows for the development of family life and full integration into the life of a community. Poverty breeds insecurity, despair and frustration, in addition to a host of other social ills. In Winnipeg, the Task Force was told: "The stock is old, community services and amenities are lacking, affordability and crowding problems are common and the environment has little to provide the quality of life necessary to reduce other problems such as crime, drug abuse, child abuse and alienation often associated with areas of poor housing… Providing better housing will not automatically eliminate these problems. However, an adequate housing environment will certainly help families cope with the poverty and alienation they often face."
Dr. Tom Carter
A large proportion of family income goes towards housing costs; more so for the poor. Poor people have little choice with respect to housing. They are forced to stay in inadequate housing or to accept whatever is available. Provincial social assistance levels and minimum wages are not high enough to pull individuals and families out of poverty, thus allowing the luxury of choice in the housing market. Both sources of income are particularly inadequate for those who rent in the private market. A study of Ontario social assistance recipients in 1987 found that 90 percent of those who rent in private markets paid rents in excess of the implied shelter component of allowances. This figure stands in stark contrast to that of social assistance recipients living in social housing in comparable situations; just five percent are forced to pay rents in excess of their shelter allowances.
The increasing numbers of people dependent upon food banks in major urban centres -- 180 communities in Canada have food banks -- is directly linked to the high cost of shelter. In a special report, The Kids Are Hungry, released in March, 1989, the Daily Bread Food Bank of Toronto estimates that 72,000 children and their families in the Metro area found it necessary to use food banks at least three times in the previous year. As a result, one in seven children in Toronto can be said to come from a "food bank family". The report also found that 59 percent of these children live in private rental housing and most of their families pay more than they can afford for rent. The report concludes that, "the growing cost of rental accommodation is of the prime causes of this situation. Families with young children appear to be among those most severely affected."
In-November of last year, the Canadian Association of Food Banks released a report entitled, Canadian Hungercount 1989. The report found that 378,000 different people per month use food banks in this country; 151,000 or 40 percent of the food recipients are children. On an annual basis, Hungercount estimates that 1.4 million Canadians including 566,000 children use food banks. The report also found that 72 percent of those forced to use food banks receive provincial or municipal social assistance. Another 15 percent of food bank recipients depend upon unemployment insurance, old age pensions and disability pensions for their income. Among several conclusions, the report states: The consistency of need for food relief across the country shows that hunger should be regarded as a serious national health, social and economic problem... Children are at a disproportionate risk of hunger, a fact which is compounded by their vulnerability to the health implications of that condition.
Poor housing is a threat to health and the quality of life that most Canadians take for granted, particularly among children and senior citizens. The link between housing and health status has been well established. In a review of community-based literature on health inequities, the National Anti-Poverty Organization reported that: "almost all poor people are likely to live in homes that cost too much and that threaten their health. Incomes from social assistance, minimum wage or part-time jobs, or social insurance programs, are not high enough to let families rent apartments that are adequate... Poor cooking and bathing facilities make it difficult or impossible for families to care for their health. The neighbourhoods that do have affordable housing often have a lot of street traffic, pollution and crime. They often don't have space for children to play. These factors lead to accidents, stress, illness and violence."
Professor Alex Murray of York University pointed out to the Task Force that while the vast majority of poor Canadians live in private rental units, the federal focus is exclusively on non-profit and co-operative forms of housing. In addition, the Task Force was told by representatives of the building industry from every part of the country that private rental construction was, in many cases, no longer viable. In many respects, the housing crisis is a crisis of the private rental sector. Federal policies must be developed to ensure that small private landlords can continue to operate in the marketplace. Professor David Hulchanski, Director of the Centre for Human Settlements at the University of British Columbia told the Task Force bluntly that the private rental market in Vancouver had moved beyond the crisis point. In notes presented to the. Task Force, Professor Hulchansk states: "The problem is not a lack of demand -- there is plenty of demand for rental units. It is a lack of effective market demand: tenants simply cannot or will not pay the rents required to make private supply of rental stock economical... In sum, there is very little reason for believing or hoping that unsubsidized private sector supply of rental units will be viable again. There is market failure in the private rental sector." Consistent with the shortage of affordable housing in the private market, the demand for social housing far exceeds the supply. Clearly then, any solutions must address both social housing and the need to revitalize the private rental market. As well, it is not enough to say that the solution lies only in the construction of new affordable units. Individuals and families need assistance now and cannot wait the several years which would be necessary to construct the number of units which are required.
A solution cannot be reached without first examining the effects of inadequate income. There is strong statistical and anecdotal evidence that an individuals' quality of life is largely determined by ones' housing situation. The Task Force has found direct andindirct linkages between the adequacy and affordability of housing and factors such as poor health, hunger, chronic unemployment and educational levels of attainment. Throughout. this century, successive governments have attempted to deal with these problems through a myriad of social programs. Great strides have been made in the battle against poverty and unequal access to medical care and equal opportunities in the workplace. But a significant number of Canadians continue to find the deck stacked against them
While convinced that the present social safety net must be maintained and improved, the Task Force believes that as a new century dawns, the federal government should re-evaluate the efficiency and efficacy of the present safety net, in the context of rapidly changing social and economic conditions. An argument can be made that once an individuals' or families' housing situation has been stabilized, many other problems lend themselves to easier solutions. For instance, a stable home. life is conducive to a childs' regular attendance at school and that childs' concentration on their studies. A stable home would open up-new employment opportunities as energies previously devoted to keeping body and soul together can be channeled into the workplace. Stable homes build solid communities and improve the quality of life for all Canadians. Programs such as education, training and social assistance are meaningless without adequate housing. In many provinces, an individual cannot receive social assistance without a fixed address. It is ridiculous to assume that an individual can retrain for a new job if three-quarters of their income is going rent and there in not enough left over to ensure a proper diet. In this context, the time has arrived to make housing the cornerstone of federal social policy in this country. This is not to suggest that the federal government abandon its traditional commitment to the poor, the sick and the elderly. Rather, it is a recognition of the positive impact the provision of affordable housing can have on the quality of life, in the broadest sense for a family which currently lacks such security. "The fact that the cost of housing is outpacing incomes, particularly in Canada's urban centres is a serious public policy problem and is having serious ramifications on thousands of families and individuals lacking the security of a home they can afford. It is too big a problem to be solved through housing. programs alone."
Mr. Bob Player, President
The Task Force recognizes that increased incomes alone will not solve the housing crisis. But in the short term, additional income will afford families and individuals greater choice in housing markets and alleviate the cash squeeze which necessitates visits to food banks and soup kitchens. Indeed, this has been the experience to some degree in Ontario in the wake of social assistance reforms in the past year which have increased the level of benefits. While outside the normal purview of the Task Force, this issue is not one that can be ignored. In addition, the Task Force is reluctant to recommend policy actions which financially affect other levels of government. Again, this matter cannot be ignored. The Task Force believes that the government must pursue two avenues of income security reform: the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP), and a new program of income supplementation for the working poor. The CAP ceilings announced in the 1990 Budget reflect a callous and indifferent attitude towards the poor of this country and towards the vital need for social assistance reform in Canada. This ceiling will effectively limit the extent of reform in those provinces directly affected and sends a negative signal to other provinces contemplating reforms.
The Task Farce urges the conservative government to lift the CAP ceilings announced in the 1990 Budget. Further, that negotiations be initiated with the provinces, in the context of CAP, to increase the implicit shelter component of provincial social assistance allowances. At the same time, it is imperative that federal attention be turned as well to the needs of the working poor. More than half of all poor families in Canada are headed by aparent who works at least part of the year. Yet there are no programs which provide incentives to work. Ironically, welfare recipients who take a job are often financially worse off as a result, due to the loss of various benefits.
The Task Force recommends that the Conservative government initiate consultations and negotiations with the provinces to establish a new social program which provides an income supplement for workers whose earnings from employment leaves them below the poverty line. This program should: be built upon existing provincial income supplementation programs; be national in scope and cost-shared by federal and provincial governments; support the work ethic; vary the amount of supplement depending on the number of children in the family; and complement existing social programs and initiatives recommended by this report.
Homelessness is a complex, multi-causality social issue. The Task Force was told that the travails the homeless endure are "the product of prosperity". The homeless in Canada come from all social and economic backgrounds and suffer a host of problems including mental illness, physical disabilities and other health problems. Many of the homeless require not only a stable home but also varying levels of support services. The stereotypical homeless individual is the middle-aged alcoholic male. The reports that the Task Force received from those on the front lines shattered this perception. Increasing numbers of young people are becoming homeless as they flee physical or sexual abuse in the family home. The Task Force was particularly troubled by the plight of homeless women, who are subjected to abuse and violence on the streets as violent as the situation they have escaped but have precious few places to turn to for help. A federal policy response must recognize the different groups among the homeless and the factors which contribute to homelessness such as; reduced federal housing subsidies and the NIMBY syndrome which hampers the development of affordable housing and special needs housing; and neighbourhood gentrification.
Many of the recommendations proposed in this report will substantially improve the supply of affordable housing in Canada and thus, address the housing side of homelessness. It is vital though that the federal government recognize that four walls and a roof do not constitute a home. The Task Force believes that permanent housing must be the ultimate goal but recognizes that temporary shelters and transitional housing units are urgently required. Solutions must be framed in the context of achieving independence and integration for the individual. It is necessary then that the problems of the homeless be addressed in a broad, comprehensive fashion which incorporates a range of community support services.
The Task Force recommends that the Conservative government immediately convene a National Conference on the Homeless with participation from all levels of government, the non-profit sector and the private sector to set real objectives and policy responses for the eradication of homelessness in Canada. It is vital that the homeless play a significant role in this process. As well, the federal government must initiate discussions with provincial Ministries of Health and/or Community and Social Services to ensure that the immediate and long-term needs of the homeless are addressed.
The goals of decent, affordable housing cannot be achieved by any sector acting alone. Housing and shelter are considered in Canada to be fundamental to people's social well being and therefore, are the responsibility of both the public and private sector. Federal housing policies must recognize that the market will not provide for all the housing needs of Canadians. In designing programs to meet the needs of disadvantaged Canadians, it is vital that the non-profit sector not be seen as a threat to the private sector.
The federal role in housing must not be a residual one. The connection between housing and other aspects of both social and economic policy means that the federal government must take a lead role. Only the federal government has the power to equalize access to housing. If this responsibility is to be taken seriously, then a wide range of policy instruments are required. The Task Force does not believe that the federal response to the housing crisis can be compartmentalized into distinct solutions pertaining to housing, health or income security.
The Task Force heard condemnations of Conservative housing budget cuts from coast to coast. Particularly devastated were those representing the co-operative housing movement and representatives of municipal governments concerned about cuts to the Rental RRAP in the 1989 Budget. The Conservative housing record since 1984 can politely be termed one of quiet strangulation. The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association has provided figures to the Task Force which show that from 1980 to 1984, federal housing expenditures represented, on average, 1.68 percent of the annual federal budget. Under the Conservatives, this figure has shrunk to an annual average of 1.37 percent of federal expenditures -- a difference of 0.31 percent. This represents more than $400 million in annual expenditures. The 1989 cuts to Rental RRAP threaten the marginal housing available to thousands of low-income individuals. Cuts to the Federal Co-operative Housing Program in the same Budget threatened in the words of the Co-operative Housing Federationof Nova Scotia, to wipe out the co-operative housing program" in that province. Cuts totaling $165 million over the next five years in CMHC’s social housing funds announced in the February, 1990 Budget will further hobble the non-profit sector in Canada. The Liberal Election Platform of 1988 contained a pledge to increase the production of non-profit housing to a level of 40,000 units annually. This objective must be met if all Canadians are to be adequately housed.
The Task Force recommends that the conservative government reinstate the funds cut in April, 1989 from the rental component of the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program. In addition, new guidelines must be presented to ensure that the mandate of this program is unquestionably to assist in the provision of affordable rental accommodations for needy Canadians, "I have been seeing more and more disabled people having to turn to family or service clubs (Lions, Kinsmen, etc.) in order to make home modifications for a disabled family member. This is directly related to the fact that many people currently fall into the gap where they are not eligible for assistance, yet they are not able to afford renovation costs. A well thought out program could assist in integrating more and more disabled people into the community. The focus on integration as opposed to institutionalization is widely accepted as a healthy way to improve the quality of life of disabled people as well as improve the public's perception of disabled people."
Greg Winmill, Canadian Paraplegic Association
Disabled persons often experience great difficulties in finding adequate housing in the private market. The Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program for disabled persons is an attempt to help individuals renovate their own homes to ensure accessibility. At the present time, RRAP for the disabled provides up to $10,000 including a forgivable loan for up to $5,000 for such renovations. Disabled homeowners are eligible for assistance in the form of partial loan forgiveness if their gross family income falls below $33,000; if gross family income is less than $13,000 annually, the loan is forgiven in total.
The Task Force believes that the financial parameters of this program are totally unrealistic. Obviously the maximum assistance level will hardly provide for the construction of an entrance ramp, the widening of a few doors and the relocation of some electrical fixtures. This level of funding will not allow for the construction of an additional bedroom or washroom. As well, the program does not allow for new construction. Finally, the gross family income ceiling is ridiculously low and effectively eliminates disabled homeowners in most Canadian urban areas. If Canadians truly support full integration of the disabled into all aspects of community life, the program criteria must be improved.
The Task Force recommends that the Conservative government immediately commence a review of the disabled persons component of the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program with a view to improving accessibility criteria. Further, that CMHC examine the feasibility of basing assistance upon the individual’s degree of disability as opposed to a strict definition of income, within reason. The Task Force heard impassioned presentations from co-operative housing advocates and residents from Vancouver to Halifax. The co-operative housing movement is a vital component in the quest to ensure decent affordable housing with security of tenure for all Canadians. Yet, the conservative government has never allowed the Federal Co-operative Housing Program to reach its full potential. In spite of a promised commitment of 5,000 units in 1986, this objective has never been attained. In 1989, federal commitments resulted in the construction of less than 2,100 new units. While spared further cuts in the 1990 Budget, the entire federal commitment is currently under review. The Task Force is convinced that this housing option works and provides low- and moderate-income Canadians with a tremendous alternative to traditional forms of social housing and the private market. The co-operative housing community truly represents one of the finest examples of Canadians working together to achieve common goals in the improvement of their own living conditions, those of their fellow citizens and indeed, of their communities.
The Task Force recommends that funding for the Federal Co-operative Housing program and the Rent Supplement Program be increased to allow for the construction of 5,000 new co-operative housing units annually. Further, it is suggested that a formal consultative mechanism be established with the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada with respect to the disposition of surplus federal lands. Finally, the Task Force recommends that the Conservative government use the current evaluation of the Federal Co-operative Housing Program to examine new possibilities for co-operative housing in Canada. Material, labour and other home construction costs are generally the same across Canada. It is the land cost which is placing the price of housing beyond the reach of many Canadians. High land costs have not only prevented middle-income families in major urban centres, particularly Toronto and Vancouver, from purchasing their own homes but also thrown an insurmountable obstacle in the way of non-profit and co-operative housing groups which are striving to provide housing for low- and moderate-income Canadians.
The Task Force is convinced that measures must be found to moderate the impact of excessive land costs on the production of affordable housing. An appropriate place to start is with the land holdings of the federal government -- the country's largest landholder. The Task Force was told on several occasions that the availability of reasonably-priced land was one of the greatest concerns of those, in both thepublic and private sector, who seek to provide affordable housing for Canadians. High land costs also limit the effectiveness of federal housing dollars by reducing the number of units which can be constructed within the current Maximum Unit Price structure. The Task Force believes that it is crucial that the federal government make more Crown lands available for the construction of affordable housing
The Task Force recommends that the Conservative government amend Treasury Board regulations which require that Crown lands be disposed of it market prices and that federal departments. Crown corporations and agencies be required to identify land parcels, buildings and facilities surplus to their needs. Surplus Crown lands should be made available, on a priority basis, to public and private non-profit and co-operative housing companies, associations and groups. The government should explore the feasibility of leasing crown lands to assist in the production of affordable housing. Further, that a comprehensive policy for the disposition of these lands be implemented including mechanisms to facilitate the involvement of private sector developers and municipalities in the production of affordable housing. "Having a safe place to go is probably one of the most critical needs for all of us. When our home life is threatened most of us lose our stability. For many people with significant mental health problems, loss of housing is a frequent occurrence... We found people need more than just a pleasant physical surrounding with warm and caring people. Individuals with significant mental health problems also need assistance in developing the skills and supports so that they may feel both satisfied and successful in the living arrangement."
Susan Chipperfield, Canadian Mental Health Association
The physically disabled are not alone in experiencing difficulties in finding adequate affordable housing. The Task Force was told of the urgent need to develop supportive housing for those with psychiatric problems. It is important that housing be considered an integral component of' therapy as other aspects of treatment may be fruitless in view of unstable housing situations. Housing models should emphasize the independence of the individual and reflect the distinct needs of each person.
The Task Force recommends that the Conservative government ensure that an adequate supply of affordable housing units be made available under the amalgam of programs administered by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation for individuals with special needs. The location and design of units supported by CMHC must not prevent or discourage occupants from seeking or receiving rehabilitative and clinical services. The allocation of federal housing resources is based upon an agreement reached in 1985 among the provinces known as the Regina Accord. The Accord allocates federal funds according to three separate formulae; one for the Urban Native program, one for RRAP and a third for all other programs. The Accord provides no guarantees as to the total number of units which will be funded in a particular province in a specific year. Though in place for the past five years, the Regina Accord was intended to be an interim measure.
The Task Force was informed that this interim national allocation formula was penalizing those provinces which are able to deliver units at a lower cost. The Minister of Housing for the Province of New Brunswick, Hon. Peter Trites, told the Task Force in Moncton that: "the present mechanism for allocating federal budget dollars has been designed in such a manner that provinces like New Brunswick are losing budget dollars to those provinces where delivery costs are rising more rapidly. Essentially, this means that New Brunswick will not be in a position to deliver a full range of cost-shared housing programs without reducing the number of units to be delivered."
Mr. Trites called the combination of this federal allocation formula and Budget cuts to social housing, "both frightening and inequitable" and "holds the province hostage to external costs outside its control." While there may be no change in the level of need within a particular province from year to year, that province may still suffer a reduction in the amount of federal funding it receives if developments in other provinces reduces its' share of the national need. The Task Force shares Mr. Trite's concerns with respect to the national allocation formula and the detrimental impact its continuance has on the less populous provinces.
The Task Force urges the Minister of State (Housing) to expedite the development of a new national allocation formula which minimizes the year to year funding reductions a province may incur.
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