Homelessness, Issue 40

There is a shortage of quality social and affordable housing in most Western nations. Based on pre Coronavirus statistics, there are 35,000 homeless Canadians on any given night. This does not account for the approximately 50,000 couch surfers. In Canada , over 235,000 individuals experience homelessness every year. 200,000 of these use homeless shelters. The chronically homeless total 8,000 nationwide.

There is nothing I fear more than being homeless again. I grew up in a household of fear, and have survived several forms of abuse. I have been addicted to opiates. I have been incarcerated. I have had to fight for my literal survival on a lot of different occasions. I have hitchhiked across America, and lost everyone I loved at one point. My life has had more than a fair share of frightening moments, but nothing scares me nearly as much as homelessness

(LeBlanc, 2015, p. 96).
Nothing scares me like homelessness

Causes for homelessness

  • Significant numbers of families spend more than 30% of gross household income on housing. Many spend more than 50%. These families are just one illness, accident, or missed paycheque from being on the street. 
  • Neighbourhood gentrification that does not consider the displaced poor
  • Inadequate planning for refugees be they intra-regional, intra-national, or international.
  • Lack of consideration for the needs of those discharged from hospitals and other institutions. Many require continued rehabilitation , care, and supervision.
  • Domestic violence and flight from the family home
  • The lack of  affordable housing

So, what is affordable housing?

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (“CMHC”) has programs to support the development and maintenance of affordable housing. Requirements include:

  • Minimum project size of five units
  • Limitations on commercial usage
  • For an existing property, 80% of the units must be available at or below the 30th percentile of rents in the relevant market. I am not even sure I know what this means.
  • For a new project, the total residential revenues must be 10% below potentially achievable rents. Then, 20% of the units must be available at rents at or below  30% of median household income in the relevant market.

The 2018 median household income in Montreal was $92,990.Therefore annual rents of  $27,900 or $2,325 per month qualify as affordable. Incomes in Montreal:

  • Average Salary: $74,200
  • Average take-home earnings: $49,608
  • Most typical salary: $52,725
  • 42% of the population makes less than $63,000 pa
  • 80% of the population makes less than $100,000 pa

Typical salaries fall $40,000 below the median income of $92,990. How affordable is $27,900 for the 42% earning less than $63,000 pre-tax? How can a percentage of median income be the best indicator of affordability? 

Some other definitions

  • The Cambridge Dictionary  defines social housing as:
    • houses or apartments that are owned by local government of by other organizations that do not make a profit and rented to people who have low incomes.
  • The Economic Times defines as:
    • housing units that are affordable by that section of society whose income is below the median household income.

The objective

The only qualitative definition found comes from the United Kingdom’s Shelter organization . The four key elements:

  1. Social and affordable housing should be available for anyone who needs it. It must be at affordable rents for the individual or individual family.
  2. Tenancies have to be secure so that people can put down roots and and contribute to community.
  3. Rents should be significantly lower and increases limited so that residents can continue to live in existing communities.
  4. Stringent quality control to ensure the maintenance of decent living standards. 

Successive national, provincial, and municipal governments have good intentions. However, eliminating homelessness and providing good, safe, affordable housing is complex. In this issue I have:

  • Defined the problem
  • Set out various causes of homelessness
  • Clarified the inadequacy of the economic definitions of affordable housing
  • Established some possible objectives
Housing in Vienna

More to come

In my next issue on the subject, I will look at  Vienna, Austria. It has the best rated social housing system in the world. Then, I will consider ways to improve the supply of quality social and affordable housing.

The usual reminders: 

  • Buy better, buy less, reduce, repair, reuse and recycle 
  • Shop local, support local businesses, buy from local farms, and support local artisans and manufacturers
  • Wear face masks where required, wash your hands, practice social distancing, hydrate, and exercise
  • Cancel Facebook and Instagram!

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