A coalition of B.C. advocacy groups is aiming to make social housing a provincial election issue.
At a news conference today (February 4), a group calling itself the Social Housing Coalition B.C. launched a call for 10,000 units of social housing a year to address what it says is a crisis in the province.
“Our coalition is demanding that the provincial government build 10,000 units of social housing every year to end homelessness and provide secure housing for all the people who are at risk of homelessness,” said Jean Swanson of the Carnegie Community Action Project.
According to Swanson, the coalition estimates that more than 100,000 people across the province are in need of social housing, including the homeless living in shelters or on the streets, the “hidden homeless” such as those living in a car or with friends, and people paying over 30 percent of their income on rent and living in substandard housing conditions.
“There's people who are a single paycheque away from homelessness, there are people who are the hidden homeless,” said Karen Ward. “They couch surf for months and years on end, and they stay with friends, or they sleep in cars, or they’ve found spaces to sleep and squat. But these people have no home—they are effectively homeless.
"And then we have people who live in SROs…who are a step away from homelessness, whose rents themselves are rising in the most inadequate housing in Canada," she added. "They’re paying well more than 30 percent of their social assistance rate, their minimum wage rate…these people are a breath away from homelessness.”
Swanson said other factors contributing to the need for social housing include the scheduled expiration of operating agreements for 40,000 units of existing public and co-op housing in B.C. over the next 20 years, the conversion of some low-income units in the Downtown Eastside to housing that is unaffordable for people on social assistance, and the number of low-income housing units needed to address population growth.
Lorelei Williams from the organization Aboriginal Front Door said there is also a “national looming crisis” in aboriginal housing, both on and off reserve.
“As an aboriginal woman and single mother, I know how hard it is to find permanent housing,” she stated. “Another huge issue is aboriginal women fleeing abuse. They end up homeless, go to shelters, which the majority of the time are full, and they end up going back to their abusive relationships, just so they have a place to stay.”
Campaign organizers are issuing a series of other demands, including: prioritizing social housing units for indigenous people, immigrants, women, seniors, people with mental health and physical disabilities, and vulnerable low-income people; recognizing tenant unions under the Residential Tenancy Act; and enforcing maintenance standards.
“When they push people out of their homes, and then increase their so-called maintenance by painting over mold, putting in new laminate and then saying that they’ve brought it up to standard, they haven’t,” said Doug Swan of the organization ACORN. “They’re able to do this because there’s no enforcement. This needs to change.”
The coalition estimates building 10,000 units a year would cost about $2 billion, which they say would translate to 1 percent of the province’s GDP.
The group plans to stage 10 different “stand for housing” demonstrations around the city this Saturday (February 9).