Providing affordable housing isn’t as simple as it may seem.
“Our role is to provide dry, well-maintained, habitable housing to those who need it,” said Helen Chapman, a low-income housing landlord for more than 16 years. “At the end of the day, what we are providing is a service, and I also need to be making an income.”
Across Canada, there is a growing emphasis on providing access to housing for those experiencing homelessness as soon as suitable accommodation can be found. According to the Landlord Engagement Society in Maple Ridge, B.C., integral to finding suitable accommodation is engaging landlords who are willing to rent to people who are experiencing homelessness.
Chapman has multiple properties across the Parksville Qualicum Beach region geared to low-income residents.
“There needs to be a change in mindset about people’s ideas of landlords,” said Chapman. “We aren’t like something you scrape off your shoe, we are actually people providing a service in return for a profit that we live off of.”
As explained in the first article of this series, ‘The changing face of homelessness in Parksville Qualicum Beach’, the current housing crisis has highlighted the growing homelessness issues in the region. However, it has also affected landlords and property owners respectively.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, “property taxes went up, insurance fees increased, everything went up in cost,” Chapman said. “In a situation where cash was thrown at everyone, landlords didn’t receive any help.”
When asked about potential solutions, Chapman said: “Someone needs to recognize the importance of landlords, but it won’t be solved locally here, it needs to be fixed provincially. You need to encourage people to be landlords.”
Many of the tenants who rent through Chapman have been homeless at some point in their lives.
“Sometimes people just fall on hard times or make one bad choice and it’s really hard to drag yourself out,” she said.
As discussed in the second article of this series, ‘Living without housing or healthcare in Parksville Qualicum Beach’, housing is only one aspect of the social determinants of health. And housing the homeless is only the first step in addressing the problem.
According to the 2020 Housing Needs Report, published by the Regional District of Nanaimo, approximately 25 per cent of the entire housing market is already rental-based. Government-subsidized housing – including transitional support and assisted living – only account for 1 per cent of the market.
Despite landlords providing a significant portion of the housing in the area, there is a limit to what services landlords can provide.
“What I am not, is a social worker or a charity,” Chapman said. “When things go wrong, it is nice to have some sort of social support.”
Chapman has partnered with various community initiatives to seek out social supports needed in these often-complex rental circumstances.
Organizations like Society for Organized Services (SOS) have programs such as the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS), that work in conjunction with the SOS Homeless Prevention Program (HPP) and the region’s Homelessness Outreach Support Team (HOST).
“These programs provide various supports geared towards landlord-tenant mediation, to ensure the best possible outcome for everyone involved,” said Susanna Newton, executive director at SOS and co-chair of the Oceanside Task Force on Homelessness.
“To mitigate the social challenges of homelessness and ease the burden on landlords, there is a strong need for more government-funded supportive housing,” said Newton.
An example of government-subsidized housing includes Orca Place, a 52-unit supportive housing complex that provides homes to marginalized individuals while allowing for the opportunity to offer additional supports that don’t often come along with private-market housing rentals.
Orca Place operations are based on the “Housing First” approach to ending homelessness.
According to Homeless Hub, a web-based research library and information centre, “the concept of ‘Housing First’ is a recovery-oriented approach to ending homelessness that centers on quickly moving people experiencing homelessness into independent and permanent housing and then providing additional supports and services as needed.”
Once housing is provided, the social determinants of health can be assessed and addressed accordingly.
“Housing First” operates on the premise that individuals have the freedom to choose the type of housing they prefer, as explained by Sam Tsemveris, author of Housing First: The pathways model to end homelessness for people with mental illness and addiction (2010). However, this model also acknowledges that choice may be inhibited by the availability and accessibility of local housing. Therefore, Housing First models vary significantly in how they are implemented.
“The task of ending homelessness involves consistent and effective interprofessional collaboration from all key stakeholders at every level in the Parksville Qualicum Beach Region,” said Newton.
Erin Dej, author of A Complex Exile: Homelessness and social exclusion in Canada (2020), adds that ending homelessness requires inclusivity.
“Solutions to homelessness must account for the homeless experience on a human level. Exclusion is more than not having a house or not being a part of the workforce. It often comes to define the core of who somebody is. Until people feel included, we cannot truly end homelessness.”
Jennifer John is the Oceanside Task Force on Homelessness co-ordinator. This article has been produced through the efforts of the Union of BC Municipalities Strengthening Communities’ Services Grant.