Sunday, March 20, 2011

From a dream to a reality.

My last blog reminded me it has been a long time since we talked about affordable housing. I am typing this with one hand because I am using the other (fortunately my non-dominate left hand) to hold my a/c adapter cord at the optimal angle to sustain power to my laptop.

Back to the subject for today…. Taking affordable housing from a dream to a reality. There are several options for affordable housing, some are better than others. As most of you know my preference is to see cities partnering with Habitat for Humanity. Habitat provides affordable home ownership through donated materials, volunteer labour and expertise, as well as the sweat equity of the future owners. The system is self-regulating; the required 500 hours of sweat equity insures the commitment of those on the list. One complaint about Habitat's program is that they only take low income (working poor) families and persons with physical disabilities. Habitat homes are a scarce resource and as with all scarce commodities, there is a triage in place to see that it is assigned to the best possible use. The reason Habitat homes are scarce is due to a lack of land to build on. Almost all money from fundraising goes to the purchase of land.

Social housing built, owned and operated by cities / provinces is the most expensive and least sustainable of affordable housing options. I was raised in Social Housing. Built to the lowest possible standards, it is fraught with repair problems. As tenants the occupants are NOT allowed to maintain the building and the city is slow to assign a maintenance crew to clear up problem. Out of sight… out of mind. Subsidized housing is privately owned and by agreement with the government a potion of the rent is covered by tax dollars. The problem is that these units are often being listed at well above the actual market value. Gouging the government / taxpayers out of huge amounts of money every year. These units, also, are often poorly maintained… the occupants feel fortunate to have a roof over their heads and often fear eviction if they complain. One option which is proving useful is the involvement of Not-for-profit agencies in creating rental properties to accommodate singles and small families who are not ready (for whatever reason) to assume the responsibility of home ownership.The Calgary Homeless Fondation and E4C in Edmonton are two good examples of this kind of work. The Calgary Drop-In is making some inroads in this regard, but reviews are mixed on that project. This is something new to the shelter industry, but given the high numbers of homeless in Canada every effort should be welcomed.

So I encourage every person, corporation and government level in this country to put as much land as possible into the hands of Habitat for Humanity… donate or just lease… doesn’t matter which. It is time to stop studying the problem. Let us put down our pens… pick up our hammers and build a society where everyone can live in safety and dignity.

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