Time to think outside of the box!

imagesOn a daily basis, readers/watchers of any media are assailed by pundits, commentators or just opinion writers that tend to oppose most ideas they read about, and feel compelled to discuss.

This is a natural reaction, it is very easy to be negative and in some cases plays to the crowd. We at the BR have worked very hard to not only criticise, when we feel we have to, constructively, but in all cases of criticism offer alternatives to the proposal being discussed. It is not fair to the idea/proposal if one only says, “It doesn’t work”, or it is deficient without saying why and how to overcome the deficiency. We, at the BR also realise that not all of our alternatives are mainstream and therefore will be adopted holus bolus. There are alternatives that are viable, and can work only if certain conditions exist.

So for instance when we discuss the failings of not enough “affordable housing” we do so realising that not all of the Citizens think it is a good idea – “the Government should not be in the business of housing!” – is a response from Conservatives, usually accompanied by the refrain that such an idea is Communistic.

However in the light of current Provincial moves to control the housing market and the move to put more Federal money into housing infrastructure one has to question whether this is the best use of our public money.

On the Municipal level most Municipalities do not operate “social housing” complexes. These complexes are built and owned by Municipalities and offer housing units at a cheaper rate than usual rental units because the profit motive and margins have been removed from the operation. Financed by municipal bonds the cost of building is lower than industry rates. This probably why Conservatives and Developers dislike the idea of “social housing”, and try to offer alternatives. One such alternative is the mandate to local developers that a percentage of units in a plan be “affordable”. Presumably this means that the developer can build and sell units that are cheaper than the others in his plan. How do they do this? One of two ways: the builder can either reduce his margin on the unit, thereby sellng a cheaper unit, or by building a smaller unit and reducing overall costs. Either way this approach is doomed to fail after the first sale as the cheaper unit then becomes subject to ‘market forces’ and rapidly becomes unaffordable to the target audience.

So the choice is simple if you want “affordable housing” then only Government can provide it under the present schemes. But let’s think out of the box!!

There is another way – subsidise mortgages and rents. Take rents first. If we institute two principals – rent controls and subsidies to lower income people. Rent controls on units are essential otherwise the subsidies will go to landlords who have jacked up prices to negate the subsidies, and lower income people must have access to affordable housing in a progressive society. For instance we know that one solution to homelessness is a housing unit. Problem is  –  not enough of them.

So we advocate housing subsidies as opposed to a bricks and mortar operation. Cheaper by half and easier to administer.

Using the same idea we now look at Food Banks. Food banks are a large piece of the “Poverty Industry” a segment of the economy that services lower income people to help them get the help they need. We at the BR hate food banks, they are an abomination and a blight on civilised society. Rather like the work-houses and alms-houses of the past a pittance shovelled out by charity to keep the streets clean from beggars and petty criminals. Sometimes established by “Lady Bountifuls” – to make themselves feel good they are now usually staffed by overworked volunteers and paid administrators. A civilised society should be able to provide econmic succour for its Citizens by the generation of wealth shared by the managers and workers. An ideal long forgotten in this world of financiers and corporate interests dedicated to wringing the last penny from underpaid workers. The last thing on their minds is a well paid worker with money in their jeans.

But there is an alternative to the idea of food banks doling out cans of beans, food banks that collect food, food banks that sort and distribute the same food. All of this being a highly intensive and expensive (if you don’t have an army of volunteers) operation to sustain. The alternative is a card that is given to the food bank recipients, instead of a box of food. The card will buy food at the local market. It is financed by a donation from customers to the same markets as they purchase their own food, and usual funding sources.

This idea is naturally written off by the large food banks as being unrealistic but there is an operation in Woodstock, Ontario that has been making this idea work. To read about this programme click here. Of course it has its many critics but at least the concept is up and running, and can be compared to the traditional ways of doing things.

Hey folks it is 2017 – the 21st Century why are we still sticking to the last Century’s thinking?

3 comments for “Time to think outside of the box!

  1. Deb OConnor
    April 23, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    Portable housing subsidies? Really? The problem with those is that unlike the bricks and mortar of building permanent housing units, they achieve only short term relief and add nothing to the housing stock for the next family.

    I’m not so sure landlords can’t jack the rent even with rent control; the law also allows them to make application to the Tribunal for a rent increase above the guideline. These are almost always granted, and in our experience at the Legal Centre, often the first time the tenants even hear about it is when the landlord shows up waving the approved Order in their faces. Appealing these is no simple task either, and costs money the tenants don’t often have.

    Rent subsidies may be easier than building and administering social housing units, but they are no long term solution and that is what we need, not a quick fix.

    Here are the latest numbers, and I would add that it took me four years on the local waiting list to get a unit in 1986. Nothing has changed! At least when my income improved and I moved out the unit remained for the next family. Had I been paying a rent subsidy to a private market landlord there would be no lasting benefit for all the spent money except of course to the landlord who pocketed it.

    This information comes from the Ontario Non Profit Housing Association and was written in 2016.


    Since 2003, ONPHA has gathered data on the number of households waiting for rent-geared-to-income housing in Ontario. Through the annual Waiting Lists Survey Report series, ONPHA drew attention to the need for dedicated, long-term funding for new social and affordable rental housing.

    More than 171,360 Ontario households are waiting for a home that they can afford. Waiting lists have grown by more than 45,000 households in 12 years, and applicants face an average wait of nearly four years. In many communities, the wait is much longer”.

    • April 24, 2017 at 8:12 am

      You are absolutely right Deb, in your statements that many people are waiting for ‘affordable housing’ – AH. This post was written in the context of the reality of today. Little housing being built by Government – the cheapest way to provide housing and the folly of mandating planning policy to instruct developers to build a percentage of AH.

      It is going to get worse as we will see when the “Sunny Ways” guys set up their privatisation infrastructure bank – which will drive up the cost of borrowing money and guaranteeing a return to the investors who put their money in. The number of units needed will be less than the number that Government could build if they borrowed the money themselves.

      So although portable subsidies are not the complete answer but they are part of the puzzle needed for the reality of today.

  2. Angela Browne
    April 25, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    While I can understand your arguments, my vote will always be for the portable subsidies. Place-based housing leaves low income families at a disadvantage, particularly in a stale economic environment or if the head of the family is eager to get out of poverty. There are no jobs anymore that actually pay people what they need to be able to get out of RGI housing, so people don’t move out of RGI housing. They may wish to, but cannot. Their oldest child leaves home, they are forced to move and given sixty days to do so – at THEIR expense. Ah, why again did we house this family? If they are able to afford to move, maybe they are in less need of housing help? My last residential move costed me over $4,000. What low income family can pay that much, especially if they are like me and need assistance in packing and unpacking, among other things?

    Then this same family’s second child moves away from home and they have to move again to a smaller unit. No, if one of the children decide to boomerang back after that point, you find yourself overcrowded. Further, you cannot run a business in an RGI home. Many people these days are not finding the high paying jobs that are needed to escape poverty, so some might try to do this through starting their own small businesses. Not only are you not allowed, it would be very difficult for you to have the necessary space to do it even if you were allowed … no extra bedrooms, no private place to study if you are in school … and putting your business at the kitchen table is not exactly the most professional way to do it. Further, once you begin to earn an income and from what I hear from the report called “Zero Dollar Linda” by John Stapleton as part of his contribution to the Metcalfe Foundation, one doesn’t need to really earn a very high income before they get snagged. I hear it is $440 (and on ODSP, this is pre cannibalization of this same income by ODSP), so despite the “allowance” of $440 in public housing, ODSP has already taken its pound of flesh. Your income gets higher than that, not only will ODSP take its pound of flesh even more, but housing will re-calculate your income and push your rent up so that it properly is 30% of your total income. Never mind if you make enough money to pay taxes, that is also taken off that same mutilated dollar.

    For a portable housing subsidy to work, one must have a choice of where to live and not be told they have to live in a particular building or in a particular sized unit. The recipient should have a right not to have their landlord know their source of income from this subsidy (or ODSP, for all that matters). The person would have the right to move if they feel their landlord is too difficult or if their next door neighbours make them feel unsafe. In place-based subsidies, you are stuck and are forced to live next door to the drug dealers, the prostitutes, the type of people that play loud music at 3:00 a.m. and in a unit that is infested with vermin of all sorts. You don’t get to vote with your rent and move on, if you must. RGI providers try to argue with me about how their “projects” don’t have any more problems than any other building, but that is not true. Public housing is like the landlord of last resort. Those the private market have given up on end up getting housed in public housing … damn the torpedoes how their neighbours feel. Their neighbours have no say about this.

    Further, the “projects” tend to be located in neighbourhoods with the fewest amenities. In the area where the largest concentration of public housing is situated in Niagara, they have recently closed down the pool, the high school, several banks, a community centre, cut back bus service and the growing industry in this area are cheque cashing businesses, pawn shops, laundromats, so-called convenience stores and not even a coffee shop for miles around. People who live in public housing are less likely to own their own vehicles and if they live in a region like mine, they can forget about ever getting a job, let alone a good one as non drivers and non-owners of vehicles are treated like they have three heads where I live. There is usually nothing to do, fewer municipal recreation programs and most students get buses to go to school, so even extracurricular activities are hard to coordinate. Whereas, in wealthier neighbourhoods, I can think of one in particular in my city, there are two high schools, a branch of the public library, an indoor swimming pool, an outdoor swimming pool, a YMCA, a community centre and various sports associations that include families. If you had your pick, where would you rather live?

    If I were a renter, I would personally not want my address to be known as the “projects”. Employers do and will discriminate when they see that you live at “Manchester”, “Rykert Street”, “McLaughlin Street”, whatever … and wonder how far you fell and from where. Don’t kid yourself. I have witnessed this type of thinking in casual conversations with friends of mine in a position to hire people in their businesses. I also do not wish to disclose all my financial, personal relationship information, disability status, etc. to those that manage these housing programs. Even in mixed income housing situations, such as co-operative housing, everybody seems to know everybody who is on subsidy, whereas those who are not on subsidy are actually catered to as they help pay the bills, or perceptively so.

    As somebody that just wants to get out of poverty and be respected for being the individual I am, I don’t want to be labelled, put in a box or told what I can and cannot do in my own home. I don’t want to have my rent payments to be so unpredictable at times that I would find it difficult to impossible to budget, thus falling quickly into arrears. I don’t want the headache of being told that I don’t qualify to live in my community anymore (even if I finally found a building where I was happy and developed many friendships), simply because one of my children leaves home. To me, if people not of low income did not have to go through all of this, why should I – if I were low-income? My rights to privacy as a person are just as important to me as to those who are relatively well off. Lots of changes need to be made to housing policy, but government ownership is not one of them.

    I realize some countries do support a very publicly funded housing infrastructure, where 70 – 80% of their populations live in some form of public housing. But I doubt Canada will ever reach that stage where this type of market will ever become acceptable, dignified and stigma free. I don’t have all the answers, but I have seen generations of certain families in my region occupy public housing, then as their kids get older, they get public housing units of their own and so on. Home ownership, choice in rental accommodations and some individually based housing financial help should be broadly available to those in need or seeking. Increased support for in-law units, basement apartments, duplexes, triplexes, etc. are necessary. Housing solutions are not a one-trick pony, whereas more and more of our public dollars get soaked up into building and maintaining stigma, not housing. I think our day and age has come to start looking at these issues in the broader sense and to tackle poverty by identifying it as poverty and not “house poor”, “food insecure” or whatever other euphemism is out there. Poverty is a shortage of money and resources. We need to ask ourselves why instead of continuing to accommodate it.

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