Time to tear down our old attitudes

Dear Editor,

I am a member of the Vancouver Island Affordable Housing Society, but the opinions I will give here are my own…

I am slowly but surely coming to the belief that the very fabric of our society has turned to rags.

In the past few years, our housing situation has changed dramatically. It progressed from bad to emergency status in a few short years, and it doesn’t look like it is going to be any better in the future at this rate.

To make it worse, several of the older apartment buildings are deteriorating, and the chances are that they will be replaced by condominiums after their time is up, it is an observed trend not only here but in all of Canada.

A huge part of the problem is that municipalities are not open to the social housing we so desperately need and there are no alternatives that can be affordable for the better part of the population. Even our new doctors are having a hard time finding a place to live. Digest that for a moment.

My partner, mentor and friend, Jan Hesseling, the head of our society, has been able to build a total of 208 units on the Island, but we need 3,000 units just for our island alone, so this is what I have been focusing on.

It seems like regular working people do not want to have unemployed people on public assistance for neighbors. These are the people who need stable housing the worst. It is next to impossible to find a job when they are homeless, a terrible cycle to be locked into.

I wrote an open letter to the prime minister a while ago on this page about the problems that we are having, but he never replied to it. Remember the days when our politicians actually wrote back in return? A short while ago he brushed off a question during a television interview about the housing situation with the reply that there are three million people who have spare bedrooms that they can rent out. I would wager there are no Rooms to Rent signs on the lawn of his own house in Ottawa.

Property flipping is one of the reasons that housing is not affordable any more. It is a disgusting practice that needs to be legislated out of existence, but it needed to be done years ago, before the market was so hot.

It was a mistake that has helped us get to this point and it is going to be worse in the future if something is not done about it.

Municipalities are contributing to the problem by not allowing social housing to be built, and this is a troubling trend in the past few years, not just here in our beautiful Campbell River. To me it seems like pure discrimination against the people most vulnerable to homelessness.

The time has come for a radical change in our thinking. We MUST tear down our old way of thinking about housing. No difference between social or affordable housing any more, the difference is not that much, just a matter of fact that becomes apparent to anyone looking for a place to live, employed or not…the housing just isn’t there.

Using economy of scale is the best solution is to building towers, like they do in larger cities, but we need the land to build on. In my own opinion, we need to expropriate any and all municipally-owned land, and perhaps any unused property owned by churches and charities. It is was past the time to do so.

If anyone knows of land we can build on, please do let me know, I am easy to find, either on Facebook or in person around town. I am desperate to find it to ease the shortage of available housing. Our society has access to millions of dollars in government grants to act upon, but those grants will not be around forever.

You can’t tell me that our situation is so far gone that it is impossible to turn around, we just need more open-minded city councillors and real leaders to attack the problem head on, and get that housing up, no matter the perception of whatever social class of people are in. Everybody needs a place to live, regardless of status.

People fear that social housing will lead to a plethora of policing problems, but that is a matter of good management practices. Everyone should get their chances at a place to live. I am aware that 7-out-of-10 homeless people have been evicted as a result of their own behaviour, drinking and drugs etc, but there are a lot of good people on public assistance as a result of growing unemployment and this is not going to be changing any time soon, it is getting worse every year.

Time for a shift in paradigm…to tear down those old barriers to housing, and lean more to the side of non-profit housing, like in Europe, where 40 per cent of housing is non-profit. It is one of the only solutions to our housing woes, but changing our attitude toward the people that need our support to progress towards employment and a good life. More and more people are finding themselves on employment insurance and public assistance. The We are becoming Them Movement?

When voting time comes around again, at every level of government, vote for the people who support social and non-profit housing, it should be at the top of the list, but better still, try to change the attitudes of ourselves to help the most vulnerable to homelessness.

Housing is housing, tear down our old attitudes toward those people who are on public assistance.

You may become one of them.

Guy Banks

Campbell River