By: Kristi Fairholm Mader
The National Housing Strategy has been released, and it has been interesting to read the various responses, accolades and criticisms about the strategy. And, it has engendered a lot of discussion around the office! Here is the Ready to Rent BC perspective through the lens of rental housing stability and prevention of homelessness, and the aspects of the NHS that address those issues.
1. The New Canada Housing Benefit will provide up to $2,500 annually to about 300,000 renters to assist them with making ends meet while on community housing waiting lists or in market housing. Affordability is a huge issue and money in the hands of people trying to pay rent will help. However, it is critical that this benefit is matched with a policy framework that limits the amount of annual rent increase (not all provinces have this), and marries the benefit to the rate of inflation (at minimum) or, more appropriately, at the rate of rental increase at the community level (meeting the goal of reflecting local priorities). In Victoria, rents increased by 8% in the past year— the housing benefit should be tied to this increase in order to ensure ongoing affordability. Too often, we have seen public benefits be designed but not matched to inflation or cost of living increases. The benefit erodes, and people are left feeling the pinch and trapped in poverty. By tying benefits to rate of inflation and cost of living, the government feels the pinch and becomes incentivized to find solutions.
2. A Plan to Make Homelessness History– we are optimistic to see prevention included in the national strategy and looking forward to the details on how this will roll out. We are also excited to see the support of demonstrations and solutions labs—RentSmart is a forward-looking practice and program, and this may be an opportunity to provide support throughout the community educator network to research the impact and support the ongoing demonstration of the model. The prevention of homelessness and increase in housing stability could benefit from several different solutions labs!
3. Gender Based Analysis—RentSmart was originally designed to support women existing out of violent relationships and have continually seen graduates reflect the priority groups within the NHS: Indigenous women, newcomers, aging populations, people with disabilities. “Community-Based Tenant Initiative is expected to aid immigrant and refugee women in the search for suitable housing and provide them with more information to negotiate tenancy agreements”—this statement could be applied to each of the identified groups, and RentSmart provides a solution that can help achieve this goal.
4. Research and Evidence Based Practice – this is critical in understanding what works and where to target resources. This also needs to be matched with a transparent process for impactful or promising community based solutions to be matched with researchers, or be provided resources to conduct the research independently. Our hope is that communities get to decide what is important to research and that academia provides the support and research capacity.
There is lots to celebrate in the National Housing Strategy, primarily that there is one and it encompasses the spectrum of housing options, issues and potential solutions. The timelines are a bit too distant to address the current crisis, and we are concerned as to what the next couple of years will look like. However, we recognize the amount of work and goodwill it takes to develop such a strategy and commend all the voices and contributions made to set us all in the same boat. Now it is time to start rowing!