by Bill Thomas & Kristina Craig
This past Sunday was National Housing Day in Canada, so now is a great opportunity to recognize the importance of housing in our lives. It is also a chance to think about and question our approach to housing and homelessness in Whitehorse.
Having a home means we are part of a community. We are better able to participate in things that matter and contribute to a healthy, secure community.
If we were meeting the housing needs of all Yukoners, we could celebrate this day and look forward to a better future. Unfortunately, this is not the case, especially for people in low-wage jobs or people who are facing other challenges in their lives, including mental health and addictions.
The facts are clear. In September, a national rental housing index was released that shows that fully a third of all renters in the Yukon spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing, which the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation says is the “cut-off” line for affordability. The median rent remains high in Whitehorse; it has yet to go down.
New programs, like the Mental Health Transitional Treatment Program, which will offer 10 beds, are being developed. This is a transitional program, not transitional housing. And it raises the question of where people will live afterwards.
It was in the early 1990s that the responsibility for social housing was devolved to the provinces and territories – social housing is housing with subsidies attached to ensure rents are affordable for low-income households. Since that time, homelessness and housing insecurity has escalated across Canada, including here in Yukon.
Recently social and affordable housing have been in the news with the new partnership forged between Yukon Housing Corporation and the Ta’an Kwach’an Council. The proposed 42-units are being described as affordable rental housing. We should be celebrating this investment as the demand for affordable rental housing in Whitehorse greatly outstrips the supply.
Yet many who comment in the local papers and over coffee are less than positive.
Why is that? Why is there a sense in our community that some people deserve housing and others don’t? Why do we still hear a suggestion that issues of housing, income, education, health and access to services is really the job only of the individual, not one of our community, our society or our governments?
It seems the new federal government does see a role for itself in these issues. There is a new ministry called Families, Children and Social Development. The department is committed to lifting families out of poverty, get family members into the workplace and help them find affordable housing. It also wants to create opportunities for a better life for children. Never before has a federal ministry been described in this way.
There is also a promise for a national housing strategy and renewed investment in social housing. This could add momentum to affordable housing priorities and help navigate complex federal/provincial/territorial relations. A strategy could set a foundation of personal stability for seniors and the homeless, while recognizing that suitable housing has positive effects on health care costs. A comprehensive strategy could build a link between new priorities and existing housing programs.
So let’s think about housing as a human right and celebrate the potential for progress. Let’s think about how our programs can support each of us wherever we are at. Let’s recognize that housing should follow suit. Let’s acknowledge that governments have a role to play as do we all. And let’s hold the new and old governments to their promises over the entire term of their respective mandates.
Perhaps next year, those most in need of housing will have more options. Then, we can celebrate National Housing Day as a healthy community.
Bill Thomas is chair of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition’s housing task force. Kristina Craig is the coalition’s coordinator.