Affordable Housing is a Key Strategy
“If we want to end poverty, it’s gotta start at home,” says Greg Dewling, CEO of Capital Region Housing. “That’s the foundation - a safe, affordable home. At the end of a hard day, you just want to go home to a place that’s within your means, where you feel comfortable and safe. It helps you feel more secure in life. If you start there, you can start working on other aspects of your life.”
The cycle of poverty can be difficult to escape. But having a safe, comfortable, and affordable home to live in can make a real difference for individuals who are financially struggling.
“Providing affordable housing gives them the opportunity to get on their feet,” says Greg Dewling, CEO of Capital Region Housing. “We have staff that work with us that lived in affordable housing. Our own minister, Lori Sigurdson, lived in affordable housing. All of these people needed that break, needed to create that margin in their lives so that they can go on and live their best life.”
Rent Comes First
Rent or mortgage payments can’t be missed. This leaves many working poor families and individuals in a difficult position of having to choose which basic necessities can be met that month. Affordable housing provides individuals with the required tools needed to build better lives for themselves and their families. According to Canadian mortgage and housing corporation, housing is considered “affordable” when a household spends no more than 30% of its gross income on shelter. And in Edmonton, roughly 60,000 households are in housing need.
“The reality is that everyone deserves a home that they can afford,” Dewling says. “And in the current economy marketplace, that’s difficult for a percentage of our population. Our philosophy is that we’re already paying for individuals - if we’re not creating homes, we’re paying for their healthcare, for social workers, for policing.” Rather than focus on reactive solutions, Dewling says it makes more financial sense to eliminate the issue at the root.
20,000+ Units Needed
The City of Edmonton estimates we need at least 20,000 affordable housing units. And getting these units up will require collaboration and cooperation between businesses, government, and individuals. “It’s a three way street, among politicians, community leaders, and housing providers,” says Cameron McDonald, director of the Right at Home Housing Society. “We need politicians to talk about it more. Housing providers should make an effort and approach local communities. And community leaders in leagues and associations need to have those open conversations.”
This problem can’t be solved by one organization, or individual, or community. It needs to be a group effort, which has been the core of EndPovertyEdmonton’s advocacy work around the GameChanger Affordable Housing. The Edmonton Community Development Company was created in 2017 (Roadmap Action #31) to build and renovate affordable housing in our city, by working together with community members and empowering them to lead the revitalization of their own neighborhoods. EPE is also working to unite communities (Roadmap Action #13) and empowering them by supporting innovative, local ideas to permanently move people out of poverty. This action focuses on boosting household income, local economic development, and building deep, community connections.
By providing affordable housing, we are giving our fellow neighbours the required support to help them get to a better quality of life. Dewling says, “A healthy society really starts at home. If people are able to pay for their shelter and support their families, they become contributors to society. If they’re no longer worried about where they’re sleeping or how they’ll pay this month’s rent, they become a giver to the community.” By providing families and individuals with affordable housing, we are creating long-lasting community members who can turn around and help others.
The Stigma of Affordable Housing
Unfortunately, there are negative stereotypes and stigma associated with living in housing units. When asked about the thinking that affordable housing will increase crime, McDonald says, “That’s a myth and a misconception and it’s really focusing on the wrong target… We have tenants who have been living in affordable housing for 20 years. Now, it’s their home, it’s where they start to build communities, where they begin to have relationship with neighbours as neighbours. They would be very offended if they get looped into this stereotype that they are part of a crime and that they’re lesser human beings.”
The best way to remove these stereotypes is by having conversations with community leaders and members, especially around what affordable housing really is and what it might look like in our neighbourhoods. “All communities can accommodate 16% affordable housing projects. If [we] can have those conversations and bring in [housing] providers and talk about what it means, what impacts it can have, then that resentment and fear will start to dissipate and the idea of affordable housing will become more accepted,” says McDonald.
Providing for Needs
Everyone wants to feel like they belong - it’s a human need, just as important as food or shelter. This sense of belonging enriches us, it’s the glue that holds our community together. We can only be as strong as our most vulnerable individuals. So let’s do this, Edmonton - let’s stand up for our neighbours, our families and fellow citizens. Let’s end poverty, together, because that’s just the Edmonton thing to do.