CHANGING THE HOUSING GAME
Having a safe and stable home is a basic need for all of us. When we don’t have it, all kinds of things begin to go wrong.
Today, one in four Edmontonians have a hard time affording homes (meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on a place to live, with more than 20,000 households spending over 50% on housing). These include: people with disabilities or mental health concerns, seniors on fixed incomes, the person stocking shelves at the local grocery store, restaurant servers, your child’s preschool teacher, daycare providers, young families, recent university graduates, social workers, working poor households (often working 2 to 3 lower paying jobs), and women and children fleeing violence.
Why are people struggling to afford homes: Over the last ten years in Edmonton, incomes have plateaued while housing costs have greatly increased. A shortage in modest starter homes or appropriate rental housing (especially for larger families!) has caused both to become less affordable for low-income Edmontonians. As a result, waiting lists for affordable housing have quadrupled in the last few years, with thousands of Edmonton households waiting three or more years for help.
Three game changers on the housing front
- Choosing Integration over Segregation. The current recommendation before City Council is to adopt a guideline of 10% affordable housing in every Edmonton Community. This points in the general direction of integration. Getting us there will require both sound policy and broad acceptance of integration as something we want. Here’s one great example to inspire us! In the Netherlands, some apartment complexes or condo towers distribute their housing for 20% low-income, 60% middle-income, and 20% high-income. Well-integrated affordable housing means no ghettos, no negative stigmas, and better health and stability in a well-woven city fabric. That’s a choice we can make together!
- Committed Funding and Consistent political backing for effective solutions. Too often, a political sea change can sink meaningful and effective solutions. Our political leaders need to hear that ending poverty and addressing homelessness is important to us. Currently, the need is strongest for Permanent Supportive Housing (much like a senior’s complex) as the best tool we have to help some of our hardest to house citizens; those facing multiple complex barriers like mental illnesses, disabilities, addictions, and extreme trauma. Building places like this requires land, money to build, and money to maintain onsite supports. But guess what! It’s cheaper than emergency helps (streets, shelters, soup kitchens, jails, emergency rooms), and it actually helps people stabilize and heal!
- Gaining a welcome from the local community. Hostility between neighbours makes life together stressful. A key to success in helping new neighbours and new units of affordable housing find a welcome home in a local community is healthy consultation. Done right, it builds trust and understanding, and healthy relationship; working through questions and laying groundwork for long-term success. EndPovertyEdmonton and CRIHI are working together on resources to help both developer and local community do this well.
Mike Van Boom is a Pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. Starting in December of 2015, he has been serving with the Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative (CRIHI) as a Housing Ambassador; helping both faith and local communities engage meaningfully in the work of addressing homelessness here in Edmonton. Learn more at Interfaithhousing.ca.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of EndPovertyEdmonton.