Affordable Housing: Where are you staying this winter?

Winters in Edmonton can be brutal. Anyone who has lived here for any length of time knows that. But they can be even worse for people who don’t have a place to stay.

When the temperatures drop, the shelters get packed. While it’s a good thing we have them, shelters only provide a temporary solution at best. After a few days, it’s back on the streets.

Then there are the “hidden homeless.” People who are fortunate enough to have friends or family they can bunk with for a while. Again, this is usually temporary, although it takes the “problem” safely out of the sight of the public. After all, if it’s invisible, it doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately, the need for affordable housing does exist and is getting more crucial as time passes. In some cases, $500 will get you a room, even with some utilities, but one that is so small you literally have to go outside if you want to change your mind. And if you have a family, two-bedroom apartments can go from $600 upwards. When you tack on a phone, power, heating, and other utilities (not to mention food), that can take a huge chunk out of a low income person’s pay cheque.

And that is assuming there actually is income being earned. Persons with disabilities preventing them from holding steady work can wait months before getting on AISH, if they even qualify in the first place. Welfare sometimes only pays out a few hundred a month – not enough to pay rent of any kind.

Capital Region Housing Corporation has come to the rescue of some of Edmonton’s low income. Their buildings have rental rates based on a percentage of an individual’s monthly income (30 per cent). However, the qualifications are tight, and the waiting lists long.

I shake my head when I see some of the new developments going up downtown. High class condos and rental units. There just isn’t enough money in building affordable housing to entice many developers. After all, real estate investors are out to make a living also – is it really their problem?

Yes and no. They can be given a vested interest in making sure there is enough low income housing to go around. Development companies could be contracted by the City to build more subsidized and low-income apartments. Older buildings downtown and in the inner city could be bought by the City and converted. There is no reason why the people already living there can’t stay. My guess is that if people are living in those areas or kinds of buildings, they probably are not all that affluent to start with. Houses currently on the market could even be purchased and converted into multiple family units – one upstairs, and one downstairs, for an affordable monthly fee.

More shelters? Like I said before, shelters are a temporary solution to a problem that is getting more and more permanent for more and more people. Plus, with actual apartments and houses, low income folks can build more stability in their lives and families. Not to mention that it’s a lot easier to avoid the “Not In My Backyard” backlash of neighbours with “real” homes than shelters.

So, where are you staying this winter? If you are lucky enough to have a stable roof over your head, be thankful. Do you know anyone who is not as fortunate? And if you do – what are you going to do about it?

Paula E. Kirman is a freelance writer, photographer, and website designer in Edmonton. She lives with her parents. You can reach her at: starvingwriter@hotmail.com.

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