Summit hears number of horror stories but solutions expensive, difficult says Lee
© Guardian photo by Jim Day
Bill Fleming, provincial housing coordinator, attended the Affordable Housing Summit in Charlottetown Monday along with several mayors from across the province, people working in the housing sector, developers and landlords.
Temperatures have plunged this week and the wind chill factor overnight and early this morning was forecast to approach dangerously low levels of approximately minus 25 C. Based on the results of an Affordable Housing Summit held in Charlottetown on Monday, it likely means that hundreds and hundreds of Islanders are struggling to stay warm right now.
Affordable housing has been a topic on the agenda of Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee for a long time. During his campaigns canvassing for council and then for the mayor’s office, Mr. Lee has seen the inside of many apartments and homes which left him troubled and dismayed. He must wonder how did derelict apartments ever get approved as rentals?
He told the summit that many residents are forced into unacceptable living conditions because the low rents are the only way they can afford to live. Can you imagine what good a blanket would do today covering a window, trying to keep out the cold? The whole family would be huddled in a corner, shivering under covers to stay warm. It’s unacceptable in this day and age.
Really, it’s a page out of a Charles Dickens novel describing the deplorable slum living conditions in capitalism-run-amok, industrial-age Britain, not in today’s caring Canada with our social safety networks. It indicates our safety nets are not doing too well.
The mayor agrees the situation is unacceptable and action is needed. He wants apartments and homes to be inspected more regularly and to crack down on the number of units in the city that are below standard. Rules and regulations must be enforced to eliminate undesirable apartments. The mayor is in a position to help to make this happen. The city must either force landlords to update the units and fix them or condemn the buildings.
If tenants are forced out of substandard housing, then where do they go? The problem is then passed on from city to the province to respond. It may force the hand of the provincial Social Services Department to increase allowable limits for shelter expenses. The province is cash-strapped, so what is it going to do?
Tourist operators looking to get approval for a bed and breakfast have to pass the most stringent rules and regulations. Why are tourists looked after while our own citizens have no such protection?
A housing official estimates hundreds of apartments and homes in Charlottetown are in unacceptable living condition and the numbers of people looking for affordable housing is swelling to around 300 while more than 350 elderly citizens are looking for acceptable seniors housing.
The summit was told that affordable housing is a challenge across the province but is a greater challenge in Charlottetown and Summerside due to migration putting greater pressure on the two cities.
The purpose of the summit was to develop potential workable ideas to improve the situation with affordable housing in Charlottetown and across the province. Unfortunately it appears the summit heard lots of horror stories but heard little on how to solve them. It starts with having landlords fix problems and being reasonable in rental costs, or face the consequences. It means tenants have to respect those properties. And it means that municipal and provincial government have to work hard to provide affordable housing for hundreds of Islanders who today are cold and hungry.
The thinking exists among some landlords that tenants are simply getting what they are paying for, even if that is a rundown apartment. A better answer is that tenants only get what they are able to pay for, which is a sad commentary, especially during this Christmas season.