Canada is in the middle of a housing crisis, and the South Okanagan, Boundary and West Kootenay areas are very much in the middle of that crisis. This is an urgent and rapidly growing problem that demands the cooperation and priority of all levels of government.
The crisis has emerged out of a perfect storm of factors. Housing prices are through the roof—the average price of a single-family home in Penticton is over $800,000. Those prices have forced many young families to remain in the rental market and give up their dream of ever owning a home.
Because of that pressure, the rental market is filled to capacity. That is in turn exacerbated by the fact that some landlords are deciding to cash in on the real estate boom and sell their properties, resulting in evictions if the new owner has different plans for the house. Available rentals are now rare commodities; one recent ad offered a single room in a house with shared access to a bathroom and no access to a kitchen, for $1000/month. One family in Penticton were recently evicted after a house sale and found there were simply no rental units available. They had to start a GoFundMe page and use the money to buy an old RV.
The most vulnerable in this housing train-wreck are the those on income assistance and disability pensions, who simply cannot afford anything in the general rental market and must have subsidized options. For the first time ever, those options completely ran dry locally last week. So, if you are on income assistance or are disabled and you lose your existing home, you are literally homeless and on the street.
This unhoused population has been increasing for all the reasons listed above. Add in the opioid addiction crisis and you have an issue that is dividing communities around British Columbia and across the country. People see a rise in the number of people living on the street and assume that these people are attracted to Penticton, Grand Forks or Trail for any number of reasons. But this is happening in Kelowna, Kamloops, Prince George and other communities across Canada. Municipal governments are overwhelmed.
So what can governments do to fix this? Well, first, they must cooperate at all levels to find immediate housing solutions for those people who have no homes. This means innovative ideas that keep neighbourhood concerns in mind while remembering that most of these people simply need a roof over their heads. We need to provide meaningful supports for those suffering from addictions and offer solutions to neighbourhoods worried about security.
Federally, the NDP has a plan to build 500,000 new affordable housing units over the next decade. This is designed to catch up on the needs lost over the past 30 years after the federal government abandoned its affordable housing strategy in the 1990s.
The federal government should also:
• encourage the construction of new affordable rental housing by waiving the federal portion of the GST/HST on construction costs.
• tackle the rampant money laundering that increases real estate speculation.
• stimulate the construction of co-op and non-profit social housing by establishing Quick Start Funds to streamline the application process.
Finally, reintroducing 30-year mortgages insured by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation for first-time homebuyers would allow for lower monthly payments, leaving more money in the pockets of families to make ends meet.
The bottom line is that we must all act quickly to turn this crisis around. Forcing people to live on the streets is not the answer, whether they are young workers with no place to rent, people with disabilities who can’t afford to rent a suite even if they could find one, or people with mental illness and addiction challenges that have very difficult housing options. In a country as wealthy as Canada, everyone deserves to have a roof over their heads.
To contact me about this or any other issue, please email me at Richard.email@example.com or call 250-770-4480 (Penticton) or 250-365-2792 (Castlegar).