These three articles outline the housing crisis in BC as it is worsening through government policy and market forces. They deal with the crisis overall and in specific communities in BC.
The housing crisis in BC is going from bad to worse
By Harold Lavender
New numbers confirm what many of us are experiencing: homelessness is up and the low income housing crisis is going from bad to worse.
This crisis is most visible and sharply felt here in the DTES. But it also strikes at many other low income and vulnerable people in the rest of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, and many communities in the rest of BC.
The homeless count is just the tip of iceberg. According to research done by the Social Housing Alliance, in BC at least 40,000 hidden homeless stay with family, couch surf, or sleep in cars. And 60,000 more are at risk of homelessness because they pay way too much for insecure, badly overcrowded housing in often wretched and unhealthy conditions.
This issue of the DT East looks at what’s behind the crisis in the DTES and beyond.
There is a failure of all levels of government to respond to the housing emergency. This includes the Vision Vancouver controlled City Council, and other local governments in BC. We all suffer the consequences of a Provincial and Federal government that supports developers and landlords and doesn’t want to build and fund social housing.
The Social Housing Alliance is working towards a province-wide movement to defend housing as a right. Each of us needs housing to live a healthy life and enjoy our friends, families and communities. This means the government should fund and build 10,000 units a year of resident controlled housing we can call home.
Social housing should be accessible to all who need it without discrimination.
We aspire to build a province wide-movement, to be inclusive of those who are hit the hardest and embrace their struggles for social justice.
The large majority of the land in BC is unceded Indigenous land that has never been surrendered or given away by treaty or agreement, so housing justice must also address colonialism.
Some are hurt more than others by the housing crisis. Indigenous people face harsh conditions on and off reserve and are vastly over-represented among the homeless. Some women are forced to stay in abusive situations, and single moms find it very hard to find housing. Housing for people on welfare, disability and pension and those working at low paying insecure and part time jobs is disappearing. People with addictions and mental illness are discriminated against. Youth (including those leaving foster care) and seniors face many issues. Temporary foreign workers are forced to pay for substandard housing controlled by their employers.
In this and future issues the Downtown East will explore the many faces of the housing crisis.
The real scandal
By Jean Swanson
We need 10,000 units of social housing a year and this spring Rich Coleman, the guy in charge of BC’s social housing, says, “We don’t build ‘social housing’ any more.” Then a few weeks later he “announces” that there is $60 million a year for the next 5 years for housing and that $30 million of this will be spent on “supporting existing programs” and $30 million on new construction and renovations.
We have the most expensive housing market in the world, next to Hong Kong. Coleman’s provincial Liberal government has cut taxes so much that the richest 1% has pulled in $41,000 a year in tax cuts between 2000 and 2010.
Thousands of people are living on the streets and this government would rather spend money on gifts to the rich than on housing people who are homeless and at risk of homelessness. A new 20 per cent tax rate on incomes over $150,000 a year could generate about $400 million in new revenues — enough to build about 2,000 new social housing units per year.
Now we have a new study, the Chez Soi/At Home project, which proves yet again that it’s cheaper for taxpayers to house homeless people than leave them on the street. The media announced that the federal government is on board with this theory and has adopted the “housing first” model by contributing $600 million nationally. $600 million over 5 years means BC gets just $30 million a year for new housing (the same money Coleman announced weeks ago), and this is not even enough to house the people who will be thrown out on the street after the At Home project finishes.
In Hong Kong, where housing prices are higher than Vancouver, half of all housing is social housing. That’s the idea that we have to keep alive. We need to get housing out of the market system and we need to do it now, or the housing situation in BC and Canada will become unbearable for many more than the thousands who find it unbearable now.
A response from Vancouver Island
By Andrea Craddock, Campbell River
In response to BC’s Housing Minister Rich Coleman’s statement that “we (the government) don’t build social housing anymore”, the Campbell River, Courtenay & District Labour Council says, shame on you. Housing is a basic human need to live and function in society. Diversifying housing through townhouses, row-houses, apartments, secondary suites, and compact single-family homes on small lots all make sense and although many of these options pre-exist, the need for new housing also exists. Many of the current social housing complexes in Campbell River have not been kept up and the wait time on repairs and upgrades is atrocious. Some of these complexes could be renovated but many should be torn down and built again. Upgrading housing to greener standards would strive to make homes healthier and more efficient.
Another problem our communities are faced with is finding housing for the homeless who are active drug & alcohol users. We currently have NO spaces for this group of people in Campbell River except for our temporary shelter constructed out of a shipping container and this shelter’s funding is unstable and at risk of loss. Again, this is temporary and is in no way considered housing.
Affordable housing encompasses a diverse group of people; young families, single teens, seniors, professional people with large student loans, people with chronic mental illness, people with various disabilities etc. and requires a multi-faceted approach in delivery. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), affordable housing is suitable, adequate and affordable housing where no more than 30% of the household’s income is spent on shelter. In 2001, 21% of BC owner households and 44% of BC renter households spent more than 30% of their household income on shelter and these numbers are growing.
The need to address this issue with fully funded, results-based planning is now. Unemployment, low wages, low pensions, rising food costs, rising housing/rental rates, access to transit, mental health issues, are just some of the many varied reasons people need affordable housing. To provide ongoing bandaids for substandard housing makes no sense and the people of BC deserve better.