LCCAN Response to the Housing & Homelessness Blueprint: Lanark County and the Town of Smiths Falls Ten-Year Housing and Homelessness Plan 2014-2024

We are the Lanark County Community Action Network (LCCAN), a group of low-income community members who gather to discuss issues of importance to, and advocate on behalf of, our peers throughout Lanark County. While we can speak only for ourselves, we believe that we represent many others who are struggling to get by on a daily basis.

 

Having our own experiences dealing with the shortage of affordable and accessible housing in Lanark County it was with great interest that we reviewed the Housing & Homelessness Blueprint. We were, however, disappointed with what we read, and would like to tell you why.

 

While the report claims to offer a “framework” that “takes action now” (p. 7) this promise is not upheld in the pages that follow. To state it directly, we feel that unless specific investments in housing are on the table – which they unfortunately do not appear to be - we must conclude that the report merely provides a perception of action,  and thus serves as an appeasement to the concerned public that keeps people busy in an endless and ultimately fruitless process of surveys and consultation without change.

 

We all know that adequate housing is an issue of grave concern to all people. Not only that, insufficient housing is inexcusable in a country such as Canada. This fact is clearly acknowledged in the report's opening comment by Kurt Greaves: “Canada is one of the richest nations on earth. That we currently have a lack of affordable housing and people who are homeless is a national tragedy. Housing is a basic need for everyone”(p. 1). While, as Mr. Greaves points out, housing is a complex issue that will not be solved overnight, we believe that current urgency demands a far stronger and faster response than is in the report.

 

Inadequate housing causes people to suffer in many ways: 1) We are at risk of becoming homeless; 2) we suffer social isolation; 3) there is a lack of stability for us to build sustainable, satisfying and purposeful lives; and perhaps most importantly 4) we have to deal with all of the physical and mental health repercussions of inadequate housing, including profound stress and depression. (One of our group members described it as living in a state of “perma-panic”). A recent article in the Perth Courier concerning health care usage noted that housing insecurity is among the “major factors contributing to mental health stress” (Devoy, April 9, 2018). The waiting list for subsidized housing in Lanark County is currently over 500 people, and in our experience the actual wait times are well above the quoted average of 5 years. Two of our group members have been waiting longer than 10 years. Clearly, there is not nearly enough housing available for low-income people to afford life’s necessities.

 

We believe the following must be the priorities for moving forward with the goal of ending housing insecurity and homelessness in Lanark County:

 

  • More NEW Rent Geared to Income (RGI) housing (or equivalent subsidy program)
  • Disability/accessible RGI units
  • Supportive housing
  • Shelters and transitional housing for specific groups (e.g. people released from incarceration)
  • Creative housing (e.g. container rent-to-own, tiny houses, vacant properties, co-housing alternatives)

 

We do not need more surveys and consultations. We need more investment available for non-profit and RGI housing. Profit-driven rental housing helps facilitate homelessness, and simply put keeps low-income people “down.” We need to develop trust between the community and the government. For this to happen, the stories of real people in our communities need to be brought to light. The experiences of our own LCCAN members demonstrate that RGI housing can work, and greater investment in this approach is thus warranted. As one member in a market unit stated:

 

“I would love to stay in my place if it were bigger and the rent was lower. We have been in our two bedroom apt for 17 years with two kids who will now be 16 and 13 and now there is just no more room. I would be ever so grateful for a bigger place and lower rent as I can't move anywhere else that is affordable for us. Thanks.”

 

Compare this to the words of another member: “Because of RGI housing I get to live somewhat comfortable! I can pay the rent! Have a roof over my head.” Such basic stories highlight how effective and useful RGI housing is. It could be a solution for many more people, with the necessary political will and government investment.

 

In conclusion, we strongly believe that while the “creativity” suggested by the report (through “service integration and community coordination,” for example) is indeed valuable and necessary, it is simply not a strong or pragmatic enough approach to create the kind of housing we need in adequate numbers to meet immediate demand (p. 13). Speculative engagements with government, “directed lobbying efforts” for increased housing support in the future, and a mere exploration of “innovative sources of funding” are not going to help people sleeping on the street tonight (p. 67, 68). Directed funding and real action are what are needed now.

 

Thank you.

LCCAN members

 

Reference:

 

Devoy, D. (April 9, 2018). “Referring cases outside of Lanark county undermines local health care cases: Schooley.” Retrieved from: https://www.insideottawavalley.com/news-story/8382920-referring-cases-ou...