May 28th, 2012

The Housing Justice project, held a one-day conference on May 28th where a group of people interested in issues and solutions regarding affordable housing discussed in small groups their viewpoints and experiences. The diversity of the participants led to a solid discussion of the realities of affordable housing in Vancouver and some of the issues that are seen frequently by members of the community.

The discussions included rotating groups at five tables. The topics that were discussed were:

  1. The Preservation of Affordable Rental Housing Stock
  2. Discrimination
  3. People who fall outside of the Residential Tenancy Act
  4. Affordability and Adequacy
  5. Housing Conditions

Each of these tables has been individually summarized below, the purpose here is to draw out some of the major themes that resonated throughout the discussions.

Vulnerability

One aspect that was prevalent at every table was the vulnerability of people in precarious housing situations. Whether due to drug additions, mental health issues, abuse, seniors or family responsibilities, these people were most often discussed as the people in core housing need. This may seem intuitive, but the key point to consider is that because of these vulnerabilities, many of the government programs are inaccessible or unrealistic. The Residential Tenancy Act for example has a number of protections for tenants, however if these protections are inaccessible due to the tenant being in a vulnerable situation they become ineffective and inadequate.

Adequacy

Poor housing conditions and inadequate rental situations are major concerns for health, safety and general well-being. This is true in both non-market housing and market rentals. There seems to be a general attitude that the housing market is so competitive and affordable housing alternatives so few that people should be forced to put up with whatever they have. Further, this leads to problems of renovictions, where buildings in need of maintenance are renovated and tenants are forced out. Lack of affordable alternatives and a decreasing supply of rental housing further exacerbate these problems.

Advocacy and Education

Accessibility of advocacy services, legislative protections and government programs was another major issue brought out throughout the discussion. A common comment was that advocates are spread to thin and do not have the time or knowledge to give consistent, meaningful advocacy. Furhter, there was a repeated call for communication and coordination among groups to educate the public and provide advocacy for individuals in need.

Solutions

There seemed to be enthusiasm for a provincial government policy proposal for the upcoming Provincial election. Further, suggestions for a social media communication network among advocacy groups could enhance the support given to individuals.