Opinion: Make affordable housing central when you cast your BC ballot

Oct 22 2020, 11:24 am

Written for Daily Hive by Jill Atkey, CEO, BC Non-Profit Housing Association, and Thom Armstrong, CEO, Co-operative Housing Federation of BC


Today’s housing and homelessness crisis has been building up for decades, but it took a lightning-quick virus to shatter the tenuous grasp on shelter for thousands of people across the province.  

Orders to stay home and to stay socially distanced worked for some, but for people sleeping just inches apart in the local shelter? Not so much. Suddenly, safety from a life-threatening virus was a luxury available only to the securely housed; for renters already spending too much of their income on rent, the waves of pandemic job losses brought a new level of housing insecurity.    

COVID-19 has exposed the deep inequalities in the fabric of our society, and exacerbated gaps in our social safety nets. In a year of tumultuous change, it is clear that longstanding structural racism, and other barriers to social and economic justice in our housing and health systems, have changed very little. 

Vulnerable, marginalized communities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. They are the low-income workers risking everything, taking transit to precarious jobs in grocery stores, gas stations and care homes. They are often Black, Indigenous and people of colour who are at greater risk from COVID-19. They are the people experiencing homelessness, crowded on city sidewalks and in parks without adequate access to hygiene and sanitation facilities. They are the more than 120,000 renters across B.C. at risk of homelessness because they are spending more than 50% of their income on rent. 

And they are the 1,200-plus people who have died from an overdose this year, casualties of a toxic drug supply spreading on this side of a closed border.  

The pandemic has shown us, in glaring detail, that our housing and our health go hand in hand. Lose one, and the other is likely to follow.  

We know these problems aren’t new – nor are the solutions – and we know those solutions are within reach.  

In the past few years we’ve seen historic levels of investment from the federal and provincial governments, and we’ve applauded the commitment to build 114,000 new affordable homes across B.C.  

But while we’ve made progress on the policy front, we’ve sunk deeper on the front lines. For every new affordable home that is built in B.C. we lose three low-cost rental homes due to large rent increases, conversion of units to other uses, and demolitions of older homes. And as we continue to navigate this global pandemic we can’t afford to lose any more.   

This election is an opportunity to add your voice to the growing calls for affordable housing for all British Columbians. It’s a chance to break down the barriers that put already disadvantaged groups at even greater risk from a deadly virus.  

Please join us in calling on the provincial parties to commit to implementing these solutions to our housing and homelessness crisis: 

  • Accelerate provincial investment in developing new affordable homes by delivering the 114,000 promised units not within 10 years, but by the end of the new government’s mandate. 
  • Support a strategy that enables the community housing sector to purchase private rental housing and make it permanently affordable. Speeding up investments in new supply while also funding an acquisition strategy will help protect rental housing affordability and prevent homelessness. 
  • Take bold action to end homelessness by 2030 by significantly expanding access to temporary and permanent supportive housing, providing a safe alternative to the poisoned drug supply and guaranteeing access to substance use, mental health treatment and recovery options.  

Let’s seize this opportunity to ensure our family, friends, co-workers and neighbours have access to safe, secure and affordable housing. The health of all British Columbians depends on it. 

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