- Homelessness in Metro Vancouver up 30% since 2014, according to new homeless tally
- More women over 50 seeking shelter, homelessness report finds
- $11 Billion Can End Homelessness In Canada
- Alberta Researchers Focused on Turning Homelessness Research into Action
- Ending Yellowknife homelessness would help 1,500 people but may cost $170M, says consultant
- Liberals aim to cut homelessness by 50 per cent with new reduction targets
- The City of Toronto launches ads to dispel myths about the homeless
- Why Canada’s new infrastructure bank should be built in Calgary
- Finding Home
- Government invests $18M in affordable housing projects in Calgary
- Spin for a Veteran aims to vanquish homelessness among military vets
Homelessness in Metro Vancouver up 30% since 2014, according to new homeless tally
NewsTalk 770, April 10, 2017
By: Matt Lee
Metro Vancouver is out with its homeless count for 2017, and 3,605 is the troubling number gathered from volunteers who conducted the count. Troubling, because that number represents a 30 per cent increase from the previous tally in 2014. Almost every single municipality experienced an increase in homelessness, with the lone exception being the North Shore. Delta, White Rock, Langley and the Tri-Cities, in particular, saw the biggest jumps – at least doubling their numbers from three years ago. Port Moody mayor Mike Clay says the results are indicative of a province-wide issue. “We know that there are 70 makeshift camps throughout the region in Vancouver, Langley, Maple Ridge, North Vancouver, Surrey, Delta, Burnaby, and Coquitlam, and one of the things we’re learning and emphasizing is that this is not just a Vancouver problem, this is affecting all of us in the region.” He adds it’s an issue that will continue until more systemic changes are put into place. Meanwhile Jeremy Hunka of the Union Gospel Mission calls the results alarming. “I’m hoping that these numbers serve as a big wake up call to Metro Vancouver.” Hunka adds he’s concerned the number is also too conservative. The percentage of Indigenous, Aboriginal, and youth under the age of 25 on the streets all saw some sort of jump to varying degrees. Earlier in the day housing advocates outlined their suggestions for decreasing homelessness in B.C., which includes an annual investment of $1.8-billion into affordable housing.
More women over 50 seeking shelter, homelessness report finds
While more single men also used the city’s shelters, the report notes their stays are shorter
CBC News, April 11, 2017
By: Kate Porter
The number of people who used emergency shelters in Ottawa continued to rise last year, with greater increases among families and older women, according to a report that provides an annual snapshot of homelessness in the city. In total, 7,170 people stayed at a shelter at some point in 2016, up 5.2 per cent from the year before. The Alliance to End Homelessness released its annual report this morning. It describes some improvements over 2015: more affordable units were built in the city and more households received rent subsidies, for instance. It also suggested headway is being made to find permanent housing for single men: their average shelter stay dropped from 65 nights in 2014 to 61 nights in 2016. But there are concerning trends among families, older women and teens that need attention, according to the Alliance’s executive director Mike Bulthuis. Otherwise, the City of Ottawa’s 2013 strategy to eliminate homelessness could go off-track, he said. “The ten-year plan needs to respond a little bit more to these emerging issues that we see and develop some customized or targeted approaches as we have for single men,” said Bulthuis. But while Bulthuis would like to see the city recommit to spending $4 million to build new housing — something it hasn’t done in a few years — he said it will be up to all levels of government and the community to address homelessness and the many different types of people it affects. The federal government is set to increase funding for housing and release a national housing strategy this year and the Ontario government is looking at reforming social assistance and instituting a basic income pilot program, the report noted. More women 50+ seek shelter, The 2016 snapshot found 328 women over the age of 50 sought shelter, up 20 per cent from 273 older women in 2015. Women over age 60 were staying longer than in previous years: 86 nights on average in 2016. Ottawa’s population is aging in general, and the women who show up at Cornerstone Housing for Women’s emergency shelter are no different. Some may have lived at the edge for some time and need more help with the onset of health problems or dementia, suggested Cornerstone’s executive director Sue Garvey. “Or, maybe they just can’t continue to scrape together the pennies to make the rent as the rent goes up, and so they become more vulnerable as they age,” said Garvey. That said, Garvey sees some projects on the horizon that will provide affordable housing and supports that people need in Ottawa. Meanwhile, the number of families in shelters rose to 879 in 2016, up 12.5 per cent from 781 families the year before. Ottawa’s family shelters are full, the report noted, so about $4.5 million in 2016 was spent to house families in motels. The number of young people aged 16 to 25 staying in youth shelters actually dropped by 100 people in the last year, to 287 from 387, but those who did use the beds stayed much longer: 47 nights instead of the average of 32 in 2015. The report also expressed concern that a greater proportion of those youth are 16 or 17 years old.
$11 Billion Can End Homelessness In Canada
Huffpost Canada, April 18, 2017
In North American cities like New York, San Francisco, Vancouver, Toronto and countless others, we have grown accustomed to seeing people who are homeless walk among us, often in the shadows, often with visible signs of duress from addiction, mental illness or basic hopelessness. Simply put, we’ve become desensitized to the everyday experiences of persons visibly homeless in our cities and communities. There is also little difference in cities in Europe or Australia that share North America’s inability to address chronic homelessness through policy, programs or funding that offer long-term solutions to improve well-being and improve housing stability. But change is possible. Budget 2017 earmarked a whopping $11 billion for housing and homelessness across the country. There’s no doubt this will have a big impact. However, these funds must not only build affordable housing, they must align with poverty reduction strategies and mental health and recovery initiatives currently underway if we are to truly reduce long-term homelessness. A meaningful impact requires funding a broad range of supports to ensure fewer Canadians are among the estimated 35,000 who have no place to call home on any given night. Perhaps this historic funding and the pending release of the National Housing Strategy (NHS) give reason for hope. It’s important to consider where we have come from. There is little doubt this federal investment will change lives simply by reinvesting in a depleted affordable housing stock that, from a national standpoint, has had little attention since the 1990s. This is the same period when Canada’s homeless population increased rapidly in cities that failed to address the root causes of poverty and homelessness. Why did earlier programs fail? By not considering the root causes, we too often took a narrow approach to homelessness such as building shelters but not investing in ancillary services. The preliminary vision of the NHS is that all Canadians have access to housing that “meets their needs and they can afford” with housing described as “the cornerstone” of inclusive and economically prosperous communities. This vision is a good start, but it needs to ensure that no Canadian is left behind — especially those struggling with chronic homelessness. There is a successful model for tackling homelessness. In the At Home/Chez Soi (AHCS) project that examined mental health and homelessness in Canada, we followed 2150 people over a period of six years (2008-2014). By working to bring together a range of supports and housing, we ended homelessness for a significant number of persons previously struggling with health and shelter needs. This landmark study pioneered the AHCS Housing First model in Canada which expanded from the original five cities to more than 60. This proven intervention has also become the global standard for supporting persons struggling with mental illness and homelessness as hundreds of cities in multiple countries have now followed the evidence. Why are we slow to end homelessness? We have done a good job with new policies and organizations tasked with “ending homelessness” in Canada — but strongly worded plans have often been weakly supported with money and resources. Let’s not forget that the erosion of the welfare state, austerity measures, deinstitutionalization, increased globalization and the growing wage gap that so profoundly raised the level of income inequality in Canada have all increased homelessness and poverty in our country. Indigenous Canadians also remain disproportionately represented among the homeless population. We know that the impacts of colonization, residential schools and interactions with child and family services have greatly influenced the present circumstances of indigenous communities. These are deep wounds we bear as Canadians. Let us acknowledge that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission provided “the calls to action to advance reconciliation in Canada.” Where do we go from here? $11 billion dollars can go a long way toward healing the lives of those most in need in Canada. With these funds and a strong National Housing Strategy we can make change happen. Let’s not allow shifting political winds globally toward austerity to derail our efforts to be forward thinking and caring. We have evidence and no lack of effort. So let’s use this investment not only for housing, but also to improve health, end poverty and put us on the path to reconciliation. Let’s end homelessness, one Canadian at a time.
Alberta Researchers Focused on Turning Homelessness Research into Action
Calgary Homeless Foundation hosts two-day Research Symposium aimed at highlighting ways we can transform research and data into action and change
Marketwired, April 19, 2017
CALGARY, ALBERTA–(Marketwired – April 19, 2017) – Every other year social researcher’s from across the province gather to celebrate Alberta’s most innovative homelessness research. The event brings together researchers, service providers, government officials, and many individuals interested in gaining more knowledge on why homelessness research matters, and how we can transform research into action. Coordinated by Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF), the 4th Biennial Homelessness Research Symposium is a platform where researchers, communities, and agencies gain new insights, identify gaps in knowledge and discuss opportunities for improved practice. This event is important because it creates collaborative efforts focused on ending homelessness and providing a better homelessness-serving system of care. There will be seventeen presentations over the two day event covering diverse elements of homelessness research. This year’s event will feature keynote addresses from Kahente Horn-Miller Ph.D. and MP Calgary Centre and Minister of Veterans Affairs, the Honourable Kent Hehr. Dr. Kahente Horn-Miller has spent her life theorizing issues that indigenous peoples face as a way to find solutions as well as putting these theories in to practice. Minister Hehr has a focus in Veterans Affairs and is also an advocate for funding public education and equal rights in the LGBTQ community. Both Keynote speakers will provide unique insights on homelessness and how their respective areas are working to create real results. “It’s really exciting when the researchers tell the rest of us what they’ve been working on. It’s equally important when community then tells researchers what they think of the research,” explains Nick Falvo, Director of Research and Data at Calgary Homeless Foundation. “This is a great opportunity to bring community and researchers together for two days.” “There is a wealth of knowledge in the homeless-serving research community and that wealth is always growing as we ask new questions, research them, and use that information to guide us when we pioneer new programs and program models,” says Diana Krecsy, President & CEO of the Calgary Homeless Foundation. “When we come together as a collective and share our best and most innovative practices, we transform research into action, and ultimately provide a better system of care.” The event runs all day Wednesday and Thursday and is sold out. Anyone interested in finding out more information about any of the presentations please visit Calgary Homeless Foundation’s website http://calgaryhomeless.com/info/research-and-data/homelessness-research-symposium/. A summary, presentations, and video will all be posted online after the event.
Ending Yellowknife homelessness would help 1,500 people but may cost $170M, says consultant
CBC News, April 20, 2017
By: Ollie Williams
A 10-year plan to end homelessness in Yellowknife could cost $170 million, the consultant developing the plan told city councillors this week. Alina Turner, who previously worked on a similar scheme for Calgary, admitted the sum is “a huge amount” but said the end result would be worth the money. While a 2015 point-in-time count identified 139 homeless people in the city, Turner projects the true figure of those experiencing homelessness at some point each year to be 1,500 or more. “That is about 10 per cent of your population,” she said during a presentation at City Hall. “By comparison, Calgary would be at about five per cent. You have double the rate of homelessness prevalence compared to a major city that is known to have a major homelessness challenge.” Turner has been working on the plan since February and was delivering an update before her final report in June. Councillors reacted with enthusiasm at the prospect of a strategy to end homelessness, but expressed concern at some statistics and the associated price tag. “It is quite shocking. It’s a huge increase,” said Coun. Julian Morse on hearing that 1,500 or more people in Yellowknife are at risk of homelessness, compared to 900 in 2009, the latest year for which specific data is available. To reach the 1,500 estimate, Turner used information from emergency shelters and statistics related to core housing need, which is a way of measuring residents most in need of housing assistance. “By all accounts, that number has increased and it’s something that resonates with the regular Joe walking downtown,” she told CBC. “They’re seeing more of a visible presence of people that are vulnerable.” Comparing the report’s 1,500 figure to the 139 people identified by the point-in-time count, Coun. Linda Bussey said, “I think we all knew that, but nobody wanted to say it. We didn’t have any data. “But this is very clear. It is not just a number up in the air. She really has done the research and the math around it.” Bussey, the City’s spokesperson on homelessness, added that the projected cost may need to be “toned down for our reality.” “It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of money, it is scary,” she said, “but it’s not a report that is going to stay on a shelf. This is something we can implement.” According to Turner, the 10-year plan includes more than $50 million to build dozens of new housing units and $9 million per year in operational costs (such as caseworkers, mental health and addictions workers, and rent subsidies). She added that the figure initially presented to councillors — $147.1 million over 10 years — could realistically end up as “a cost in the $170 million range.” “You need to look at this as an investment,” said Turner. “Those dollars are actually generating cost savings to your public systems. “By placing people in Housing First, for instance, you’re going to see a reduction in emergency shelter and emergency room use, a reduction in ambulatory services or police holding cells, or jail. “That $9 million per year in supports generates $6 million in cost savings for these other systems.”
Liberals aim to cut homelessness by 50 per cent with new reduction targets
Government estimates peg the number of chronic and episodic homeless at 25,000 — the Liberals will aim to cut that number to 12,500 in the next decade.
The Star, April 22, 2017
By: Jordan Press
OTTAWA—The federal Liberals are aiming to halve the number of the hardest-to-help homeless and experts say it’s a move that may be key to ending homelessness in the country. The upcoming national housing strategy looks to cut by 50 per cent the number of “chronic” homeless — many of whom won’t go to shelters and may be harder to reach through traditional support systems — and “episodic” homeless, those who find themselves on the street repeatedly. Government estimates peg the number of chronic and episodic homeless at 25,000, meaning the Liberals expect that 11 years from now, federal spending will have cut that number to 12,500. The target suggests that the federal government is open to new ways of dealing with homelessness. The Liberals’ second budget in March showed that they wanted to get money directly to cities and service providers without having to deal with provinces. Some of those measures were clear, like giving the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., more money to dole out directly to local governments. Others were less obvious, like a promise to maintain $4 billion in funding agreements to housing providers without detailing how the money would be spent. “It’s pretty clear that the government is investing money differently,” said Tim Richter, president of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. “If they’re setting the kind of ambitious goals that they’re setting, they have to be more directed, more targeted, and they’re going to have to be creative and make their dollars really stretch.” As for the cut to chronic and episodic homelessness, Richter thought the estimated impact was pretty conservative: “With the money that they’re investing, we could achieve a lot more.” The March budget set the financial backbone for the national housing strategy, which detailed $11.2 billion in spending on affordable housing over the coming decade. With new initiatives announced this week to help deal with the cost of rental units, the strategy to be released this fall will say how the Liberals expect to spend tens of billions in new and existing programs between now and April 2028. Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos has said the goal of the strategy is to help a million people. The key to meeting the government’s homeless reduction targets will be in the final policy design and spending programs the provinces and federal government agree to, said Stephen Gaetz, director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. Internal government modelling estimates that over the next decade, 500,000 people could be lifted out of “core housing need,” meaning they spend more than one-third of their before-tax income on housing that may be substandard or doesn’t meet their needs. The expectation is that the biggest effect will be among renters, where federal dollars could cut in half the number of renters in core housing need. A further 500,000 would be lifted out of homelessness, or prevented from becoming homeless over the course of the next 11 years based on the effects of existing government programs. The same represents an aggregate of those the strategy could help, which means there may be some double-counting as people move along a continuum of housing. By putting out the numbers now, the Liberals hope to push the provinces to agree to new ways of funding homelessness initiatives. “The advantage of making these numbers public now is that we can better structure those conversations and ensure that, at a minimum, we achieve the objectives that we have already communicated,” said Duclos spokeswoman Emilie Gauduchon-Campbell.
The City of Toronto launches ads to dispel myths about the homeless
The campaign comes as the city prepares to build 4 new shelters, likely outside downtown, in 2017
CBC News, April 24, 2017
By: Taylor Simmons
Carl Tebo used to live under the Gardiner Expressway, and in the middle of winter, he used cardboard boxes, a sleeping bag and heat from a grate to stay warm. While battling a mental illness, he said he also had to battle the misconceptions of others. “Somebody’s judging me thinking, ‘Oh, there’s a derelict or a hobo,'” he said. “I have a serious mental health issue. I’m there because I don’t know where else to go.” To fight misconceptions about Toronto’s homeless, the City of Toronto and the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness (TAEH) launched a public awareness campaign Monday morning. They’re aiming to debunk the myths around homelessness and homeless people, specifically men, who make up 85 percent of the homeless population. The campaign is the third instalment of the Toronto For All campaign, which aims to end all forms of discrimination and racism. Kira Heineck, project lead of the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness, said many people don’t realize how prevalent homelessness is. On average, about 4,434 men, women and children have used the emergency shelter system each night this year. “We know that there’s many, many reasons [for homelessness] that include job loss … the fact that it is very difficult right now to afford a good home or an apartment on a low income in the city,” she said. “There’s also illness. One of the main causes for homelessness in Toronto right now is family breakdown.” ‘I need those shelters built somewhere else’ The campaign also aligns with the city’s efforts to start a dialogue on four new shelters planned for 2017 in anticipation of the eventual demolition of Seaton House, a large men’s shelter downtown. The shelters will likely push beyond the downtown core, Heinick said, where most of the city’s shelters have historically been built. “That has forced people to move from their own natural communities and neighbourhoods,” she said. “Now the time has come … to look at a better model that supports people in the communities where they actually are.” Advertisements for the campaign challenge the concept of NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) when it comes to homeless shelters, where people might support the idea of a homeless shelter, but don’t want one built near their home. The ads will be posted on transit, online and on social media. “People think those that are homeless are more likely to commit crime or to be a negative part of their community. We don’t have any evidence that backs that up,” Heineck said. “Often when we don’t know enough about something or a set of people, we tend to be a little wary. I think that’s human nature.” The city plans to host discussions on the expansion of the emergency shelter system, including on where the shelters will be built and how they’ll function. “We’re challenging people to learn more,” Heineck said. For Tebo, who has been off the streets for almost two and a half years, an important element of the acceptance of a shelter, for residents and for the homeless community, will be design. “If you build a nice shelter, you’re going to get nice residents. If they’re going home to a dungeon … I wouldn’t care,” he said. Good food, ample staff and a bed with clean sheets can make all of the difference, he said. “That’s inspiring for a homeless person. That changes your own self-image, your own self-esteem.” If you’d like to add your voice to the discussion, visit torontoforall.ca.
Why Canada’s new infrastructure bank should be built in Calgary
Canada’s infrastructure bank is expected to be built in the typical places—either Toronto or Ottawa. Here’s the case for Cowtown.
Maclean’s, April 26, 2017
By: Adam Legge
Infrastructure is the lifeblood of the modern economy, from airports and bridges to public transit and power generation. When done strategically, and for long-term benefit, these projects can be massive economic drivers. In the global battle for investment, talent and business, infrastructure plays a central role. But when it comes to infrastructure, Canada has been fighting the economic battle with one hand tied behind our back. We’ve been using legacy models to fund it, and it’s time for some new thinking. Part of that new thinking is the creation of a Canadian infrastructure bank, which the federal government has committed to this year. It will be, they promise, a new institution that will operate at arm’s length from the government, leveraging both public and private sector investment to help make transformational new Canadian infrastructure projects possible—projects estimated in the range of $175 billion—projects like green power generation, large-scale light rail and other public transit, affordable housing, and even trade infrastructure, all of which can be the engine of economic growth. A national infrastructure bank is good news for Canada. We need this. To function with independence the bank must be physically located outside of Ottawa. And the right place to locate this new bank is in Calgary. I could make the usual arguments for why this bank belongs in Calgary, and they are compelling: The highest concentration of head offices in Canada, home to 134 of the FP500 corporations; the entrepreneurial capital of the country with more than 56,000 small and medium-sized businesses; the right workforce, given that Calgary has the second most educated workforce in the country, and among the lowest labour force costs for the skills that the bank will need. And Alberta’s climate-change strategy will mean billions in new investment in the next decade. Compelling as those arguments are, I’m not expecting them to sway you. Instead, I’ll cut right to the heart of our pitch: Calgary can make this happen, and get it done right, with our combination of grit, ethics and experience. Let’s start with grit. Calgary has a level of “get ‘er done” that is legendary. Something special happens when you fill a city full of people who came here to accomplish things. Getting it done permeates the culture. The facts bear it out; Calgary has the highest workforce productivity of any major Canadian city. Then, there’s ethics. Calgary is a place where keeping your word is the only way to do business over the long-term, and a handshake still seals a deal—even if that deal is worth millions. It’s a place where the “cowboy code of ethics” sits in many a storefront window and CEO’s office, and where one of the codes is “when you make a promise, keep it.” Let’s be honest with ourselves. Canada has experienced some colossal infrastructure boondoggles. They range from cost overruns and incompetence to downright corruption. Why not place the infrastructure bank in a location with a reputation for cutting through these issues? And finally, experience. As we’re seeing right now in the NHL playoffs, veteran experience can make a big difference. More than any other city in Canada, Calgary understands major infrastructure projects and the complexities of financing these investments to help drive economic growth. Our expertise in negotiating complex infrastructure deals and our strong track record in attracting foreign direct investment comes from decades of managing our country’s most capital-intensive industry—energy. That’s not all—Calgary will also be a cost-competitive location to put the bank. The economic downturn has proven extremely difficult for many Calgarians. But as unfortunate as the downturn has been, it also presents an opportunity. Premium office space in Calgary right now is abundantly available and inexpensive. Employment numbers that took a nosedive over the past two years mean there are immensely intelligent and qualified people sitting on the sidelines. Nowhere else in Canada has the combination of financial expertise and entrepreneurial spirit to make this bank a success. Certainly, Canada has other financial centres, but they’ve succeeded in beating their entrepreneurial tendencies into submission long ago, through excessive regulatory burdens, treating businesses like an ATM, or simply failing to appreciate and celebrate all that entrepreneurs add to our country. More people in Canada actually work for entrepreneurial businesses than work for big companies—but we often don’t spend enough time encouraging entrepreneurial thinking and spirit. We ask that the federal government look to a place that has built itself on entrepreneurial foundations. After all, when the first settlers came to Calgary there was very little here, and we built this city out of sheer will and determination. That spirit still resides here today. And that is exactly the kind of spirit that you want guiding the investments of Canadians in the future of our nation—ones that will ensure we are a vibrant nation for generations to come.
Solving the social housing conundrum
Alberta Views, April 26, 2017
By: Yutaka Dirks
Amber Cannon first applied for a subsidized apartment from Calgary Housing Company (CHC) in 1998, when she was 23 years old. Securing public housing would become an eight-year odyssey.
Cannon wanted a place of her own because she and her one-year-old son were living with her parents. So were her grandparents, who had recently moved from their home in rural Saskatchewan. The house in the southwest community of Cedarbrae had four generations of family living in it and was feeling crowded. Working as a cashier at a gas station, however, Cannon could only dream of renting her own place. She was earning the then-minimum wage of $5.40 and was struggling just to make payments on her leased car. Her gross monthly income—working 40 hours a week—tipped just over $850, at a time when rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Calgary averaged $708. Even if she found an apartment at the very low end of the market, there would be almost nothing left to pay for food and other expenses. Tenancy in city-owned subsidized housing offered hope. If accepted, Cannon would pay 30 per cent of her monthly cheque to the CHC. That would leave her and her son enough to live on. But when she applied, she was told she needed an eviction notice from her parents before she would be allowed on the wait-list. Should she convince her parents to lie? Or should they actually put their daughter and grandson out on the street? Neither option seemed acceptable.
She was stuck.
Forty thousand low-income Albertans receive some form of housing assistance from the province, and 30,000 more are on the wait-list for government-supported social housing units or programs. With the ongoing economic downturn, demand is growing. In Edmonton alone, the wait-list for social housing in 2015 tripled. Albertans can apply for provincial housing programs, which include subsidized units through the Community Housing Program and Rent Support Program for tenants in the private market, if their income is less than thresholds set by the provincial government. The core need income threshold is based on the median income of the community in which one lives, as reported by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) each year, which is adjusted based on the type of apartment one requires. A resident of Acme who needs a one-bedroom apartment, for example, can apply for subsidized housing or a rent supplement if they make less than $37,500. Worsley residents (90 km north of Fairview) are allowed to earn up to $40,000. Low-income households in Edmonton and Calgary can apply for assistance when seeking a one-bedroom unit if they make less than $42,000 and $46,000 a year, respectively. Of Alberta’s 356,000 tenant households, 19 per cent make less than $20,000 a year. Nearly one-quarter make between $20,000 and $39,999. In addition to income qualifications, applicants to provincial affordable housing and rent supplement programs are prioritized on the basis of need, which also takes into account their assets and current housing conditions. As the wait-lists attest, not everyone who qualifies is helped. For people approved for one of the programs, the government provides a subsidy; if they are in a Community Housing Program unit, the tenant pays no more than 30 per cent of their adjusted income. Rent supplements pay the difference between 30 per cent of a tenant’s adjusted income and a negotiated market rent. It took a long time for policy experts to settle on 30 per cent as a reasonable income limit. The thinking goes: If you spend no more than one-third of your pre-tax income on housing, you should be able to both save money and afford the other important expenses of daily life. Before the 1950s, 20 per cent of income was considered the maximum for affordability. The amount was then raised to 25 per cent and then—since the 1980s—30 per cent of total income. Yet Statistics Canada data analyzed by CMHC shows that 23 per cent of tenants in Alberta currently spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent. Those people can’t find housing that is both suitable for the size of their families and doesn’t need major repairs. (While many homeowners also put more than 30 per cent of their income toward housing, they don’t qualify for subsidies.) The burden is worse for recent immigrants (28 per cent), Aboriginal households (31 per cent) and lone-parent families (41 per cent). Four in every 10 Alberta seniors live in unacceptable and unaffordable housing, a rate that grew by nearly a third between 2001 and 2011. The incidence rate for senior single women is the highest of all, at 59 per cent. University of Calgary economics professor Ron Kneebone calls the situation “a disaster.” He has found that, in the period between 1990 and 2014, Calgary was the least affordable city in Canada for people who were classified as poor. A single parent with one child in the lowest one-fifth of income earners living in a one-bedroom unit in Calgary could see their rent eat up 80 per cent of their social assistance income, even if they rented an apartment in bad condition or far from amenities. The main reason for Calgary’s especially dire situation, Kneebone says, is the fact that rent costs have increased by an average of 3.4 per cent annually while social assistance has risen by only 1.6 per cent per year. Compounding the income problem, since the 1970s Calgary has lost 56 single-room occupancy buildings (e.g., the St. Louis Hotel, the King Eddy, the Cecil), which were some of the few housing options poor singles could afford. And between 2005 and 2015, Calgary lost more than 5,600 rental units to condominium conversions, 3,000 of those during the 2006–2008 boom years. “Back in 1994 there was a social assistance cut in Alberta, which was fairly common across most provinces,” Kneebone said. “During the boom, the rents came up [from 2006 to 2008 rents rose by more than 10 per cent per year] and affordability fell dramatically. This is despite the fact the social assistance rates went up in 2009. The rents were too high.” Policy changes by both the federal and provincial governments during the 1990s precipitated today’s rental affordability crisis. Since 1946 the federal government has played a significant role in funding the construction of new social housing; averaged over the years between 1968 and 1992, about 20,000 units were built annually with federal dollars. In 1993, however, federal spending on new social housing ended, and three years later Ottawa transferred responsibility for most existing social housing to the provinces. It wasn’t until 2001 that the federal government would engage in new social housing, through the Affordable Housing Initiative, later named Investment in Affordable Housing. This modest program lacked built-in rent subsidies and required provinces to match the capital funding. In the first decade of its stewardship, Alberta gutted provincial funding for social housing programs. From a high of $500-million in 1991, funding fell to $150-million in 2000. It wasn’t until 2006 that funding began to match the rates of the early 1990s, but the damage had been done. The funding barely kept existing housing programs afloat. Repairs and other large expenses were pushed back and today the repair deficit for the province’s social housing is estimated at $1-billion. “We are going to lose a lot of existing housing supply without significant affordable housing investment,” said John Kolkman, a researcher with the Edmonton Social Planning Council. There’s been little to replace those buildings, many of them 40 years old. As of 2015, no new social housing had been built in Edmonton since 1993. In Calgary, just 1,048 social housing units have been created in the last 14 years, and none in the last three. “And now we have the downturn in the economy,” says Kolkman. “That’s resulting in job loss. People who could afford to pay market rents can’t anymore. They may end up homeless.”
When she was 24, Cannon was admitted to psychiatric care. She had been plagued with stress and feelings of low self-esteem. She had trouble sleeping; she wasn’t eating well. She started having suicidal thoughts. She finally knew she needed to seek help when once, in frustration, she pushed her three-year-old son. He was uninjured, but the incident shook Cannon to the bone. “I couldn’t believe I, as an adult, as a mother, could do that to a little boy. I apologized to him and went outside,” said Cannon. She called her doctor, who referred her to a day program at Rockyview Hospital. Things only got worse. “A week into the program, I went to see the counsellor. I said I’m having a great day today. I’m finally at peace, I’m going to take my life and I’m doing the best thing for everyone.” She spent a month in the psychiatric unit under observation, and doctors diagnosed her with borderline personality disorder. It was the first time someone had given a name to mental health issues that reached back to her teen years. When Cannon returned home, her family sat down with her. After discussing the situation together, Cannon and her parents agreed it was best if she moved out on her own, leaving her son in the care of her parents. She found an apartment downtown and a second gas-station job to help pay her increased costs. But the stress hadn’t abated and her health continued to deteriorate. Cannon, now 25, lost both jobs and, even with social assistance, could no longer afford her one-bedroom apartment. She broke her lease, put her few belongings in storage and began sleeping in her car. Homelessness has a devastating effect on one’s health: higher rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, tuberculosis, skin and foot problems and an increased risk of violence and early death. Research by Stephen Hwang of the University of Toronto has found that health problems exist even for people living in shelters, rooming houses and hotels—many of the places where people unable to afford market rents end up. There is a direct impact on life expectancy; 25-year-old women living in substandard housing or a shelter, for example, have only a 60 per cent chance of living until 75. Men in the same circumstances have only a 32 per cent chance of reaching that age. Even people living in apartments they can afford face the prospect of losing their home if the rent rises. In the summer of 2016, tenants in a downtown Edmonton building faced a nearly $300 a month increase, driving rents beyond reach. Although the landlord rescinded the increases when the story hit the media, such increases are not illegal, unlike in a number of other provinces. In fact, Alberta places no limits on the increase a landlord can impose once a year, provided there is proper notification. “If you are a low-income tenant on a fixed income, but if you don’t know for sure what your rent will be every month, that’s stressful,” says Robyn Luff, the MLA representing Calgary-East. “It creates instability.” Luff, first elected in 2015, has put forward private member’s Bill 202, the Alberta Affordable Housing Review Committee Act, to address facets of housing affordability that are currently overlooked. If the bill passes, a committee of MLAs will be formed to study rent subsidies, security deposits and rent regulation, among other tenancy issues. Randal Houle says rent regulation would go a long way toward increasing housing stability for people like him who live on fixed incomes. Houle, 56, has had to depend on provincial disability payments since he was injured at work years ago, and is a member of Renters Action Movement, a Calgary-based tenants group. He lives in a private apartment and receives a supplement that covers the bulk of his rent. “If the landlord really raised the rent, I’d have to move. [My subsidy] can withstand small increases, but not a doubling.” Landlords, represented by the Calgary Residential Rental Association, oppose rent regulation, arguing it would make the housing situation worse by discouraging new investment. But for a long time barely any new social housing was being built in Alberta anyway. Landlords’ claims are further challenged by a 2011 study of the existing economic literature on rent regulation. University of Winnipeg economist Hugh Grant found that “many of the criticisms of rent regulations are ill-founded on both theoretical and empirical grounds.” Instead, well-designed rent regulations can act to stabilize rental markets, prevent price-gouging and, importantly, improve security of tenure for renters. One thing regulations do not do, Grant found, is substantially reduce rents. When Luff’s affordable housing review bill was being debated in the Legislature, Wildrose MLA Tany Yao pointed to the recession and argued the “bill is trying to fix a housing market that isn’t broken.” Home sales have dipped significantly, but the recession’s impact on rental affordability has been negligible. In fact, despite the vacancy rate rising significantly across Alberta, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment actually increased 1.2 per cent from fall 2014 to 2015, before falling 4.7 per cent in 2016. In Calgary, three consecutive years of increases have brought the city’s vacancy rate to its highest in 25 years. In response some landlords have lowered rents or are offering other incentives, including free TVs. But tenants buoyed by such stories won’t find much comfort in CMHC data. The average Alberta rent for a two-bedroom apartment in 2016 was still $1,195, just $58 less than 2015’s $1,253, and well out of reach of someone on minimum wage or social assistance.
For these Albertans the housing market does indeed feel like it’s broken.
Alberta now has a minister devoted to addressing their needs: Lori Sigurdson, Minister of Seniors and Housing. Created in September 2014 as the Ministry of Seniors, the portfolio was consolidated “to better integrate and align its policies and services for seniors and Albertans in need of affordable housing options.” The ministry will spend $1.2-billion over five years on maintenance and on a new supply of social housing, a fourfold increase from the previous government, according to the minister’s press secretary. Sigurdson is also crafting an affordable housing strategy, targeted for spring. This turnaround, coupled with a federal government signalling a newfound willingness to fund a new national housing strategy, has some social-housing advocates feeling optimistic. “It’s like trying to [roll] a big boulder,” said Greg Dewling, CEO of Capital Region Housing Corporation, which provides housing and manages subsidies for almost 9,000 households in Edmonton. “Once we get started, it generates its own momentum.” Yet even when funding exists, social housing projects can hit roadblocks. Homeowners in Terwillegar Towne in Edmonton fought the creation of a supportive-housing building in their neighbourhood, forcing the non-profit agency responsible to abandon its plan. Social-housing developers and the governments who fund them must address ill-founded property-value fears and prejudices against the poor. A 2016 analysis by real estate company Trulia of some 3,000 low-income housing projects in 20 US housing markets actually found no significant effect on the value of nearby homes. As Alberta’s population grows—and ages—so too will the number of people living on low incomes. Greg Suttor, author of Still Renovating: A History of Canadian Social Housing Policy, recounts that at its peak, social housing construction in Canada was about 10 per cent of all housing produced. It’s unlikely Alberta will come close to matching such a rate, but having a firm target linked to need would help. Equally important, any housing strategy must develop specific plans for helping those groups (seniors, lone-parent families, indigenous households, newcomers and people with disabilities) disproportionately affected by the lack of appropriate social housing. In addition to mandating construction of publicly owned units, any strategy to address rental affordability in Alberta needs to deal with conditions in the private market, which is where most low-income earners live. Rent supplements can help; rent regulation can prevent gouging during the next market upswing. As well, legislative amendments to protect security of tenure of renters can right the balance between tenants and landlords. Landlord–tenant laws are the domain of Service Alberta, not the Ministry of Seniors and Housing. But the almost 700,000 Alberta tenants who pay full market rents or live in social housing aren’t concerned with ministry silos. They just need a home they can afford. Amber Cannon knows first-hand the difference made by having a home you can afford. She’s now been living in a subsidized apartment for 10 years. During that time, she’s been able to rebalance her health, graduate with a diploma from Bow Valley College and become a vocal advocate on issues of poverty and mental health. In 2002, nine months after losing her apartment and living out of her car, Cannon moved into a women’s residence, which provided supports to people struggling with mental health issues, thanks to a referral from a psychiatrist. She left the residence a year later after finding work as a cashier at Canadian Tire, but on such a low income had to live with strangers, in rooming houses or apartments. In the space of a year she moved seven times. Her son Christopher still lived with her parents, but he would stay with her regularly. Cannon recalled that during one of those visits, “He said to me: I’m scared that you’re going to move and I won’t be able to find you one day.”
“That isn’t something a seven-year-old should have to worry about. You’re supposed to be a kid.”
She sat down and wrote another letter to Calgary Housing. A few months later, a few days before her birthday, someone from the agency phoned to tell her they had a place for her. It was “the best birthday present I could have.” Cannon was 31. In the spring of 2005, some eight years after she first tried to access social housing, she moved into a Calgary Housing Company community near Mount Royal University. The apartment had two bedrooms on the second floor, a cozy living room and kitchen on the main floor and a fenced-in front yard.
She stepped across the threshold, home at last.
Government invests $18M in affordable housing projects in Calgary
CTV Calgary, April 27, 2017
It’s an exciting day for those in Calgary who work with vulnerable and homeless Calgarians. The Alberta government is pledging $18 million to be used towards new housing projects. One of them will be in southwest Calgary and rather than focus on housing for individuals; this new facility will become home for families in a mix of one, two or three bedroom units. It’s taken five years for the Horizon Housing Society and its eight Resolve campaign partners to get to this point. The project is called Elbow Valley Lands and will have 161 units with rents based on 30 percent of the tenant’s income ranging from $475.00 up to $900.00. “What’s really exciting about this development is it’s really reflective of our values as an organization,” says Horizon Housing Society CEO Kim O’Brien. “It’s about integration, it’s about community, it’s about helping to create that foundation for people to have really successful lives.” Bob Patrick spent the last seven years living in a Horizon Housing facility. Patrick is not able to work but is in a much better place mentally. “It’s not a pretty story but it’s got a great ending, you know I’m safe, secure, in an affordable home, and I can work on myself to be a better Bob.” A series of open houses kept the people who live in the southwest community of Glamorgan up to date and in favour of the project because the developers listened to the community. “Positioning the building, what the exterior should look like and have it less institutional, because some of the original drawings it looked like it could be the Drumheller penitentiary instead of a housing thing.” says Glamorgan Community Association president Beryl Ostrom. Mayor Naheed Nenshi called the development ‘badly needed’ for the city. “We have a shortage in the city of, I would say, between 3,000 and 5,000 units. Today we are building 161, which is amazing but it gives you a sense of really the scope of the problem,” said Nenshi. The Resolve campaign has a goal to raise $120 million by next year to house 3,000 Calgarians. “The money that has come in to date is already going to work, in terms of accessible housing and some of the other parts, so we’re not waiting until we get all of the money in if you will, to then start spending it, we’re spending it the organizations are spending it as it comes in,” says Randy Findlay. The development is expected to be open by November 2018.
Spin for a Veteran aims to vanquish homelessness among military vets
Calgary Herald, April 27, 2017
By: Bill Kaufman
They were furiously spinning their wheels but making progress in vanquishing homelessness among Canada’s military veterans. A group of Canadian Pacific staff and seven teams of competitors mounted stationary bikes at CP’s headquarters in the city’s southeast, spelling each other off to keep an unbroken chain of pedalling for 24 hours. The teams seeking to accumulate the most kilometres consisted of Calgary and CP police, Canadian Army, Corps of Commissionaires, British military and city firefighters. “It’s a brotherhood,” said Dave Howard, president of the Canadian Legacy Project (CLP) which is combating vet homelessness. “We’re down here watching these guys sweating their butts off … they rode all Wednesday night.” Their goal is to raise $60,000 for the CLP, though Howard said he expects the teams to exceed that by the time they finished the one-day marathon Thursday afternoon. It’s funding that’ll support a new CLP transitional housing initiative. While ecstatic about the event in which each team hopes to cover at least 1,000 km, Howard said the issue it’s seeking to tackle is a grim one. Homelessness among the country’s military vets is growing two to three per cent a year and now numbers 2,500 nationwide, he said. “And in Calgary, there are 160,” added Howard, though it’s difficult to reach a precise number. You’re dealing with very proud men and women and they don’t want to admit to being vets.” Veterans on the street come from a host of military backgrounds, from peacetime and peacekeeping to combat rotations. What they generally have in common is the affliction that’s put them there — post-traumatic stress disorder, said Howard. “It takes four or five years before they really start to see the effects of post-traumatic stress and guys on the street start self-medicating,” he said. “They shun their families and the easiest thing for them is to live on the street.” The CLP, he said, is set to unveil a program that’s meant to end the problem, but Howard wouldn’t divulge details. For now, he praised CP for taking the initiative on the Spin For A Vet fundraiser. “They approached us and are totally committed to the military community,” said Howard. “They’ve done all the work.” The company has a lengthy tradition of supporting Canada’s military and the fundraiser’s a natural extension of that, said Scott MacDonald, CP’s senior vice-president of operations system. “It is an honour and a privilege to support our Canadian veterans in their time of need as they so selflessly stood on guard for this great country,” said MacDonald. Donations can be made by going to canadianlegacy.org/donate and write SPIN FOR A VET in the comments.