A renewed focus on building social housing would help vulnerable people affected by the housing crisis, according to a retired Dalhousie University urban planning professor.
Jill Grant said effective social or public housing is built with public funds and subsidized so people pay rent based on their income – not a percentage of average rents in the area.
Examples of social housing in the Halifax area include Mulgrave Park and Uniacke Square, she said.
Most public housing in the metro area was built in the 1950s and 1960s, Grant said, when the federal government saw housing as part of rebuilding the economy after the war.
Despite the need for affordable housing, the number of social housing units hasn’t increased since the 1970s, Grant told CBC Radio. Halifax Information Morning guest host Bob Murphy.
This is a condensed version of their conversation that has been edited for clarity and length.
Information Morning – N.S.7:49A retired Dalhousie University professor says there is a need for more social housing
We hear the government saying it is trying to address the housing crisis, but was that primarily for people who can afford a house rather than people who need help?
Even in projects where there is talk of subsidizing certain units, a large part of the subsidies goes to the promoters.
The projects that the provincial government is supporting in parts of Dartmouth, they talk about providing forgivable loans to the developer for 20 years. But their affordability means between 60-80% of what the market would demand, which is affordable for some households. But there are many households that cannot afford it.
At the same time they provide some support for non-profit housing, but I notice that the funding that is going to support non-profit housing is in the form of repayable loans, mortgage support, but it has to be repaid after three years.
Grants are going to the wrong place. And we don’t see housing construction where we can expect real long-term affordability to stay in place.
Many organizations tell us that we desperately need this type of housing. Why do you think the government hasn’t built more social housing?
Public housing is expensive.
Social housing was devalued in public perception, in part because there was so little of it that it became housing of last resort for some households.
The households most in need are those who are likely to qualify for social housing.
These neighborhoods were perceived as neighborhoods in difficulty.
There hasn’t been the kind of public and other supports needed to help people cope with the kinds of problems they face.
They have become sort of reservoirs of poverty and that is not how they started.
Social housing began as an opportunity for low and middle income households to start saving resources so they could move on to other housing options.
And in the 1960s and so on, you found households that paid rent based on income, but they weren’t poor households. These were simply households where people were saving for a down payment and hoping to eventually enter the housing market.
Some say it’s important to build them in neighborhoods with mixed income levels. So you have low income housing mixed in with people who can afford more expensive homes. What do you think ? Is this a way to circumvent this fear of segregation?
That’s the kind of justification that’s used for it, but it often means gentrification. That means low-income households are starting to feel less like this is their neighborhood and more like they’re being catered for by the yuppies and those who can afford to buy their cappuccinos at local cafes.
The idea of mixed neighborhoods tries to respond to the problems of segregation, polarization and isolation. But it also has negative effects.
I think it’s better to talk to people in the neighborhoods and figure out what they need to help their community deal with the issues their families are facing, than to assume we know what’s best for them .
You said that one of the reasons the government has been reluctant to build more social housing is because of cost. But aren’t there also many costs associated with building an inadequate housing supply?
Yes there is.
But these costs are borne by individuals and households rather than the government, and they don’t get the kind of priority they need.
We see all kinds of people forced to live in parks, tents and emergency shelters, and this is still a relatively new phenomenon in Canada.
I was wondering if housing is a social determinant of health, if you don’t invest in social housing you will end up paying for it as a government in other areas. So through our health care system, for example, there’s a correlation there.
Poorly housed people are likely to have many health problems.
The big problem is that it’s people and their families who tend to deal with these issues, often because people aren’t going to seek the care they need right now or they can’t not getting the care they need. We don’t have doctors.
We’re not putting money into providing people with the kind of services they need.
We have individualized people’s problems. And that’s a big, big problem.