I’m curious… what comes to mind when I say ‘affordable housing’?
When I hear affordable housing, I think exactly that: housing that is affordable. Whether it be below-market, mid-market, or near-market, the term ‘affordable housing’ tells me that the housing costs fall below the ‘regular’ costs for a similar home in a similar neighbourhood. However, more and more, when I ask others what comes to mind when I say ‘affordable housing’ the responses can oftentimes be gut-wrenching.
From drug addicts, to individuals with mental health issues, to people who are ‘lazy’ and don’t work hard-enough to be able to afford a decent place to live, the negative stigmas that are seemingly becoming part of the on-going discourse surrounding affordable housing in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley are rooted in a judgment and negativity that saddens me to my core.
For several years now, my firm has worked on various affordable housing projects. It began with a controversial, low-barrier housing development and since that time we have worked on projects across the affordable housing spectrum. Granted, I understand the concerns associated with low-barrier housing – though, I do believe those concerns can be alleviated through proper education – but, as for other forms of affordable housing, I am perplexed by the ever-growing resistance.
As the title of this edition of For The Record states, “Everyone Deserves Housing.” A roof over one’s head, food in their stomach, and access to clean drinking water, are fundamental human rights that everyone is entitled to. However, it seems to me that my view is not shared as universally as I would have thought. Simply put, there seems to be an ever-growing degree of NIMBY-ism (Not In My Back Yard) that is, frankly, wrong and needs to stop.
For The Record…
In addressing this seemingly ever-growing NIMBY-ism, it is important that we address three key issues. The first issue, demystifying what affordable housing actually is. The second, the issues associated with public consultation. Third, the need to re-imagine what affordable housing can look like.
Speaking first to the issues of demystifying what affordable housing actually is, it’s important that we park any and all pre-conceived notions at the door. Those who require assistance with housing do not necessarily have ‘issues’, nor is it fair to suggest that they are struggling to secure housing because they are ‘lazy’. Frankly, when talking about affordable housing we’re oftentimes talking about folks who just need a little extra help (especially given the local housing market). A senior citizen on a fixed income. A single-parent already working two jobs. A youth without a family. Folks who lost their job and have found themselves in a position they never imagined. People who just aren’t as fortunate as others of us are, and therefore need life to be just a little bit easier.
The next issue we need to discuss is that of public consultation. Though I won’t speak for all jurisdictions, I will say that here in Vancouver the current governing party at City Council simply does not have a transparent public consultation process, and it is destroying our communities.
At the core of creating a true sense of community, is it important that a healthy, inclusive, robust discussion take place. A discussion that includes all stakeholders. A discussion that focuses on sharing everything from the vision of the build, to the empirical data necessary to alleviate concerns rooted in misconceptions. A discussion that consists of both common sense and human dignity. A discussion that sees government responding to its constituents by engaging in a comprehensive planning process and adjusting that plan to ensure a good ‘fit’ so that each development makes sense in-terms of its location, type, resident mix, etc.
Lastly, it’s time we all imagine what affordable housing could be! More and more, progressive, forward thinking communities are partnering to offer creative solutions. Take for example, Chilliwack. As we speak a development is well underway that saw the City of Chilliwack, BC Housing and a local non-profit organization come together with an innovative, financially sustainable build that will re-shape the community. With commercial space on the first floor, the funds from that space will go to off-set the reduced costs of the affordable housing units above – and all it took was some authentic community engagement, and willingness to partner, and a commitment to do the right thing.
In closing, the reality is that affordable housing is a human right, and it’s time for all of us – regardless of the communities we live in – to rally around some innovative ideas that will help ensure everyone who wants one can have a nice, safe, warm place to call home (and yes, including those who do happen to have substance abuse and/or mental health issues). After all, regardless of our race, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or otherwise, there is no reason why anyone should not have access to housing.
Justin P. Goodrich is the Managing Partner of Alliance Public & Government Relations.
Previous editions of ‘For The Record’ can be found online at: www.patrika.ca/for-the-record.