Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Increased access to rental subsidies key to affordable housing

The topics of affordable housing and reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness in Langley City is definitely something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately since being elected to council. Last week, I posted about the federal government’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy.

One of the key initiative of that program is getting people into stable housing. There are two principles to the approach worth highlighting. The first approach is the support of rental subsidies; the idea being that 30% of any income would go towards rent, with the difference between the market rental rate and contribution being subsidized by the government.

The second approach is based on providing housing that is scattered throughout the community. This approach to housing “respond[s] to client choice, minimize[s] stigma and encourage[s] client social integration, more attention should be given to scattered-site housing in the public or private rental markets.” For more information on this approach, there is great information available from the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.

Community-based support is part of any housing first strategy. The challenge with purpose-built, 100% subsidized housing is that it can and does lead to ghettoization.

The provincial government provides rental subsidies for families and people over the age of 60 that make under $35,000 per year.

If the provincial and federal governments are really serious about affordable housing, these rental assistance programs need to be expanded. These program should be available for housing first programs; and for people who are working or seniors, and are below the Statistics Canada's Low Income Cut-off. Eligible people should only have to contribute 30% of their income to housing.

So what is the role of municipalities in providing affordable housing? For one, we need to ensure that our development policies encourage high quality, market-priced, purposed-built rental housing. This includes one, two, and three bedroom apartments as well as townhouses. New Westminster’s Secured Market Rental Housing Policy is a good example of this.

While municipalities can help ensure that affordable housing is available by promoting increased construction of purpose-built rental housing, it will take on-going provincial and federal financial support to ensure that people have access to affordable housing.

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