Paul Willcocks on ending life in Victoria and heading to Copan Ruinas, Honduras, for a year or two, and who knows where after that. Observations on the country, the town, the people and anything else that strikes me.
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Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Shelter allowances, and the government as slum landlord
The CBC report on terrible problems in public housing in Vancouver's core is worth reading here.
It's shameful for government to be a slum landlord, taking 57 per cent of people's income for dirty, dangerous accommodation. The CBC reporters went into the BC Housing buildings, run by non-profit Atira Property Management, and found cockroaches and feces and dirty needles, doors with no locks and other problems.
The situation appears to be worst in three downtown buildings BC Housing bought five years ago, promising to renovate them. The promises weren't fulfilled. They haven't been fixed up,and there's not enough money to manage or maintain them properly. (The government announced a federal-provincial reno plan in the spring.)
The report also notes a potential conflict. The buildings are among 13 managed by Atira. Its CEO is Janice Abbott, who is married to BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay. The management contract has never been tendered. (The relationship began after the contract was awarded.)
Housing Minister Rich Coleman says Ramsay plays no role in any decision about Atira. But he's less clear about who does - people who work for Ramsay, or with him?
It's a problematic situation on other levels. Any organization dependent on government funding is reluctant to sound the alarm when things are going terribly wrong, fearing reprisals. But Abbott and Atira are in an even more complex situation, given the personal relationships.
But I wouldn't blame Atira. No one would could run these buildings with inadequate funding. The tenants are, to put it mildly, difficult, many with addictions and mental illnesses, diagnosed or not. The buildings are substandard.
There's another major issue here. Atira's residents are on disability or income assistance. They sign the shelter portion of their allowances over as their rent.
But those allowances are obscenely inadequate. A single person gets $375 a month for housing. As this case demonstrates, landlords - even subsidized nonprofits - can not even provide a desperately grim slum room at that rate. (Families are as badly off. A disabled mom trying to raise two children gets $660 a month for housing. Those kids are going to grow up in a dangerous, crappy apartment in a rundown building.)
The shelter allowances haven't increased since 2007. The Liberal government actually cut them in 2002. Rates today are basically where they were in 1995, despite soaring housing costs over the last 17 years.
Speaking of obscene, it's useful to look at what MLAs think they need for a second home in the capital. (The legislature met for 48 days last year.) MLAs voted to give themselves up to $1,583 a month for housing in Victoria. They think a disabled British Columbian should be able to find housing for $375.
If government wants to fix the problem, a start would be shelter allowances that reflect reality. That in turn would allow landlords - whether nonprofit, like Atira, or private - to cover their costs and offer something above slum-level housing.