Some of you may remember that I wrote an impassioned letter to the powers that be (and the powers that want to be) about the housing crisis I find myself being ground up in. I sent it to a lot of people. NDP Housing Critic David Eby sent an immediate automated reply and then I got put on his mailing list but he never actually responded (though at least I know he's fighting the good fight). Nor did Christie Clark, our premier, who, as Eby points out, is pretending to be concerned about the subject now that it is an election year (see the good fight mentioned above).
The first reply I got was from Gregor Robertson, our mayor.
Yesterday I received a second reply, from Jenny Kwan, who was for many years my MLA and is now my MP. This is what she said.
So what do these responses mean for me and my neighbours, on the ground, today? Well, not a lot. It is good that there are people who are trying to realize affordable housing in Canada, and it is indeed a travesty that the federal government ditched its commitment to, for instance, co-op housing many years ago. But the cold hard truth is that I very well may not find housing that allows me to stay in my neighbourhood, with all the supports I have developed over many years, or indeed any housing at all, before my building is torn down, and that the situation is even worse for some of my neighbours. Although I can't find a whisper about it online, a week or so ago I heard a CBC Radio One news story reporting that at one agency that helps seniors, requests for help in finding housing have doubled in the last year, and that there has been an increase in seniors having to turn to short term shelters, sleeping in cars and car parks, couch surfing with friends, and so on as they continue to lose their homes in this inhumane housing market.
Resisting my impulse to hide under the bed, I have diligently gone through the subsidized housing lists and eyeballed every place in a fair circle around my current home, and I have been worried by what I've seen. Many look so run down that I fear they, too, will be torn down and their tenants turned out. Others have reputations for bad maintenance and unhappy atmospheres. My blood congeals at the thought of living in such a depressing place. So I have looked for the places where people seem happier, where the building is well maintained and the apartments hold some promise of light and comfort. A couple of weeks ago I visited the place I first set my heart on and learned they had just let a suite to someone who had been on the waitlist for four years. Four years! And the waitlists are far longer now than when this person applied.
After this blow I spent a day looking at videos on how to live in a van, but my doctor immediately put the kibosh on that. “Not with your health issues.” (What about a caravan? I like horses. A tipi, a travois and a great big dog? The undercarriage of a bus?)
Many of the things I have learned in my search have shocked me, and increased the attendant anxiety enormously. Two of them have to do with how housing subsidies work in BC.
First: you are only allowed to say no once to an offer of housing. If you say no a second time, you are dropped off the list. So if, say, you are sick and unable to move, or taking care of a dying friend, or allergic to something in the building once you finally are allowed to see it (remember that we are applying for apartments we have never seen, in buildings we have never stepped into, except, if we are lucky, into the lobby and the office), you risk losing any hope of housing at all by not taking what is offered.
Second: once you have moved into subsidized housing, that's it. You can't say in a year, or five years, or ten, I really made a mistake. I can't get to the grocery store, I am cut off from my friends, the manager is a bully, or I just plain don't like it here. Only in very rare cases are you allowed to move to another building, unless, of course, you give up your subsidy. Back to square one or worse—onto the street. So this means you have to get it right the first time. And how do you get this right?
Like me, with the first news that we were losing our home, most of my neighbours were roused to a flurry of investigation into the housing market. A few soon subsided into despair and paralysis. Some, who are not in quite such desperate circumstances, into procrastination. Why move now into a place where they will be paying at least $500 more a month? Better to hang on as long as they can.
And so we wait. And the wheels grind slowly around us. I have put in my applications, written my cover letters, brought in fabulous references. I am hatching plans to see how I can build connections with some of these communities, to find a way in. I am in no hurry to leave my beloved home and neighbours, believe me. I am relieved to have the space to start catching up on other projects. But I am so afraid.
Image: BC Landlord Guide: Eviction since the Tenant no longer qualifies for subsidized-housing"