Who pays for the social housing operating costs?

In previous columns I’ve addressed the issues of homelessness and affordable housing over and over again. It’s been my main focus.

I’d like to get on to other topics soon, but in the time leading up to the Nov. 15 municipal elections and the potential informal poll on whether or not the CVRD should spend tax money to create a service to help to deal with homelessness. I feel that I have to stay on topic.

In my last column I noted that the federal and provincial governments have for some time been involved in funding the operation of social housing, but that the feds are now pulling out of operating agreements with housing providers. Getting ‘senior’ levels of government to cough up operating grants for social housing has never been easy and is now practically impossible. There’s generally money for building projects, but once a housing project is built, getting it funded by the provincial government to make up the difference between what the rents cover and the real costs of operating even a basic, straightforward housing project is very difficult. They’ll build it, but they’re very reluctant to help operate it. Of course, both building and operating capital are crucial. I’m a supporter of non-profit organizations getting involved in housing, but they need secure sources of funding too. It’s a huge challenge as is the need and demand for social housing.

Representatives of a number of non-profit organizations and government agencies tell me that the need for social housing, beyond the emergency shelter, is self-evident in the Comox Valley. BC Housing tells me, however, that there has not been a needs and demand study submitted to them from the Comox Valley in the past five years. Yet, it does seem clear that there is need for all kinds of social housing as I’ve already pointed out in previous columns. But, like I said before, people who are poor but working hard or living on disability benefits don’t blab all over the place about how tough a time they are having making ends meet. They don’t demand that we ‘do something’ about their distress. They generally suffer in silence and apologize all over the place for their situation, vowing to do better.

Why should we care if the poor or homeless are having a rough go of it? Why should we pay more taxes out of our hard earned money for their housing? Well, I don’t know what kind of world you want to live in, but for me, community is everything and we’re all in this together. People in all walks of life need to be able to live with dignity. I’m especially concerned about how children living in poverty are so vulnerable and I despair as to whether or not they will ever have equal opportunity. It’s just not acceptable that children go to school hungry. I don’t care for what reason.

Of course, there are local elected officials who don’t want to get involved in ‘social issues.’ Paving roads and building playing fields is OK, but housing is not. They have their fans, too. People who hate taxes and think every tax dollar they pay out somehow gets dumped into a bottomless cavern never to be seen again. That’s absurd, of course.

From my perspective, building strong communities starts locally. Leadership needs to come from ‘below’, from the community. We need to tell the federal and provincial governments how they can help us. We can’t do that unless we speak with one voice, a voice that would come with a new municipal housing non-profit society.

Roger Albert is the vice-president of the Comox Valley Social Planning Society and Faculty Emeritus at North Island College. He is a columnist for the Comox Valley Record, addressing social issues within the community. His blog, dedicated to the issue, is rogeralbert.org


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