Spencer van Vloten, BC Disability, January 2 (interview with BCNPHA Policy Manager Brian Clifford)
Spencer: During the pandemic we have been encouraged to stay at home and self-isolate, but for many disabled persons housing is a major struggle.
Can you explain the relationships between different levels of governments, and also property developers, in terms of determining the availability and affordability of housing in BC? Who needs to get on board to make improvements?
Brian: A lot at the policy level is set by provincial and federal governments. For example, the federal government sets specific requirements for how many units need to be accessible in order to access federal funding, and this is usually set at a percentage of total floor space.
Now, all housing is actually built at local level. There are municipal policies and regulation about design and physical placement of housing, and it is the property developer who goes to the municipality with an application to build this housing. Municipalities have the power to adopt regulations which encourage accessibility, and from there developers must follow.
But to make affordable housing work in the long-run, you need public funding from the provincial or federal government to help keep costs down.
To make affordable housing work in the long-run, you need public funding from the provincial or federal government
Spencer: What specifically can be done make housing affordable for people who may only get $375 a month for shelter?
Brian: Government funding at the provincial or federal level is really needed to make affordable housing like this a reality, but there are other structural supports which are part of the equation.
Raise PWD assistance: Many people on disability assistance simply do not have the funds to pay for housing
Increase subsidies for building accessible and affordable housing: This will allow for more housing supply in lower rent bands
Restructure current supplement programs: Broaden the eligibility of supplements and make them more accessible for anyone who is in need—this, along with increasing PWD assistance, would make it easier for persons with disabilities to pay for housing
Provide more employment/training programs: So persons with disabilities who can work are able to strengthen their job prospects and earning potential
There is no single magic solution; the approach must use a combination of measures.
Spencer: How would you describe the current state of affordable and accessible housing for persons with disabilities in BC?
Brian: Simply put, there is not enough of it. It is a challenge across the province, and especially in rural communities not well accessed by transit and amenities and services.
It is encouraging seeing some movement at the provincial and federal level for building accessible housing, but there needs to be a much greater focus. Many people in BC have a disability and many more will develop one as they age; we must be proactive in accounting for this, and people without disabilities at the moment need to realize that this is likely to help them eventually too.
Spencer: Nearly 25 percent of BC’s population has a disability, and they disproportionately are low-income, and if you’re on PWD assistance only get a $375 a month shelter allowance. Why then do disabled persons get such little attention in the affordable housing conversation?
Brian: There is a lot of research and community work on the needs of homeless persons-who themselves have high rates of disability-and the importance of housing them, and this leads to a greater focus on housing this demographic.
On the other hand, there is simply not a lot of research available on housing disabled persons to present the case and to demonstrate the need in quantitative form to the government, and while advocacy and community work on this issue is picking up, for years it lagged behind the advocacy we see for other causes.
The response to the affordability crisis is also geared toward the middle class in some ways; there is a capitalistic tendency to do more for people who are considered productive parts of the system, reflecting a bias against disabled persons.
Spencer: How has the situation changed over the last few years?
Brian: It has been 1 step forward and 2 steps back. There has been significant government funding and growing recognition that there must be a greater supply of affordable and accessible housing for disabled persons.
But we are still seeing the massive erosion of affordable housing stock in BC. Since 2011 the province has lost thousands of units of affordable housing, and for every new unit of provincially assisted affordable housing we are losing 3 of those units.
For every new unit of affordable housing, we are losing 3 of those units
The holes are not being fully plugged to stop erosion in affordable rental stock, and it has hit disabled persons hard. Currently we are working on an acquisition strategy to address some of this loss
Spencer: You partnered with Community Living BC a few times for consultations, surveys, and reports—what did you learn about housing for adults with developmental disabilities?
Brian: We found a strong desire among developmentally disabled adults to have more independent living arrangements. They want the same type of housing that everyone else wants—housing that is affordable, close to services, and in vibrant neighbourhoods.
There is a risk of stigmatizing them treating them in patronizing manner, when basically they just want the same things most people do, just with a bit more support built into their housing.
We also found that independence fosters independence. When adults with intellectual disabilities move into a more independent housing situation, they in turn become more independent and start doing things they never previously did.
Independence fosters independence
Suddenly they are cooking their own meals, doing their own laundry, working a job and managing their own social and recreational lives, when previously someone else did all this for them. It makes them more confident and happier.
Living independently, with a bit of support there in the background, leads to real personal growth, and it should be encouraged.
For more commentary from Brian Clifford, check out his Twitter at bkclifford