By Roger Albert
Because poverty is largely out of sight, out of mind in the Valley, I doubt if most people realize the extent to which we already have social or subsidized housing here.
The Braidwood project in Courtenay has been in the news a lot lately as a social housing project involving the city, but the BC and federal governments have been involved in providing social housing here for a long time along with a number of non-profit organizations and some for-profit ones.
BC Housing reported to me recently that, during the 2013/14 fiscal year, “the B.C. government invested over $3 million to provide subsidized housing and rent supplements for more than 690 households in Courtenay. This includes providing support for more than 400 senior households and over 230 family households.”
In Comox, 150 units received subsidies or rent supplements, 110 of those are senior households and 40 family households. In Comox there are four units for people with special needs requiring subsidized assisted living. I don’t have information for other parts of the Valley, but there are a few units in Cumberland that I’m aware of. I don’t know of any in the electoral areas. In any case, these numbers apply only to BC Housing subsidized housing. The actual situation in the Valley is much more complex.
For one thing, when we talk about ‘the poor’, we tend to lump a whole lot of very different people with different needs into one category and we fail to appreciate the complexity of the problem. Housing for ‘the poor’ includes market and non-market mostly rental housing. The working poor can, and some do, receive rental subsidies geared to their incomes and most of them live in market housing, some (the majority in some parts of the Valley) paying most of their income on rent.
However, ‘the poor’ also include people with addictions and mental illnesses, people fleeing domestic abuse, people with disabilities, head injuries and/or cognitive issues.
Many of these populations need specific housing types and supports once housed. Some people require constant supervision, others just reasonable access to health services. Some require assisted living or residential care. Dawn to Dawn rents market housing for otherwise homeless people but the social assistance support for a single individual in BC is $375, meaning that the only way to get people housed in this circumstance is to have them share two-bedroom apartments, which of course has its own special challenges.
Supportive housing includes subsidized housing of all kinds. Housing with supports is a different type of housing altogether and is sometimes referred to as Housing First. It refers to a situation where housing is found for an otherwise homeless person with the full realization that a home is just the first step in bringing a person out of desperation into a semblance of a ‘normal’ life. Support services must not be far behind in these circumstances. By all accounts, the benefits of this approach are enormous, however, and far outweigh the costs.
So, social housing is multi-dimensional and highly complex. It’s also necessary. One of the pressing issues we face today is the withdrawal of support by the federal government since 1994 for most forms of subsidized housing. Co-op housing will be especially hard hit by the elimination of operating agreements, but over 500,000 Canadians in public and non-profit housing are also being affected now or will be in the near future.
We need to ensure that the federal government does not abandon social housing but we can also step up locally to help out in ways that benefit our own community directly. You will have a chance to voice your support for social housing on Nov. 15. Don’t pass it up.
Roger Albert is the vice-president of the Comox Valley Social Planning Society and Faculty Emeritus at North Island College. He is a guest columnist for the Comox Valley Record, addressing social issues within the community. His blog, dedicated to the issue, is rogeralbert.org