November 29, 2009
Last night I took the night off from being homeless to have dinner with friends who live in the town I am visiting. Our conversation lead me to a startling revelation. My journey not simply about the 140,000 people living homeless in Canada but it is also about the 20,650,000 Canadians living 3 months away from being homeless. According to a Global Television report 59% of us live paycheck to paycheck.... if our income stopped for some reason we would be out of our home in 3 months. The lack of affordable housing negatively impacts our economy, by drains on poverty support systems, such as food banks, health clinics, emergency shelters, as well as income supports. But imagine what would happen to the economy if suddenly almost 21,000,000 people had disposable income to pour back into the economy, through personal spending. Not to mention the savings by reducing the numbers of people on income support by more than 50%. Short sightedness on the part of governments, corporations, and western culture in general...has us saving pennies by burning dollars. For the sake of easy math, I am going to say give Habitat for Humanity 5 acres of land (I'll assign it a value of $5,000,000) on this land they build 200 condos/townhouses each has an estimated property value of $200,000. Even at a very modest mill rate property taxes per unit $500 per year x 200 = $100,000 per year in 50 years the price of the property has been recouped. Of course, I do know a little something about double entry book keeping and our city may prefer to lease the 5 acres of land for $1 per year on a 100 year lease, thereby keeping the asset on their books. I believe they would still be collecting property tax as a sort of condo fee for providing city services but I admit I am not sure about how that would work.
Let us assume that the average family in this Habitat for Humanity complex has an income of $1500 net per month... Their mortgage has been reduced from 2/3 to 1/3 of that income, so every one of these 200 families has an addition $500 (totalling $10,000) per month to spend in local businesses. On a national level we can divide the 21 million low income people by 3; giving us 7 million families resulting in a staggering $3,500,000,000 per month of disposable income back into the Canadian economy...NOW THAT'S AN ECONOMIC STIMULUS PLAN...
I am not going to suggest reducing resources allocated to shelters and services for the homeless, because these services would experience a natural realignment with a reduction 50% (poor & working poor who live homeless) of client population. Currently shelters are less about actually helping individuals and more about wrangling large numbers of people and what we refer to in the industry as harm reduction. The shelter system was designed for a very specific purpose and affordable housing would allow us to get back to doing our jobs properly.