An affordable place to call home

Posted on in Inclusion Delivery System

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial –  Creative, community-led housing models like Field of Dreams are key to ensuring the national housing strategy produces affordable housing Canadians can be proud of far into the future.
April 16, 2018.   By

When Dorothy wanted to leave the Land of Oz and return to the comfort and safety of home, all it took was a phrase — “there’s no place like home” — and three clicks of her ruby slippers. If only it were that easy for everyone else.

For far too many Canadians there’s no magic that can transport them to such a home.

A place to live is one of our most basic needs. But finding appropriate housing, at a price they can afford, is one of the biggest challenges in communities right across the country.

Twenty-five thousand Canadians are chronically homeless and 1.7 million more live precariously in homes that are woefully inadequate or completely unaffordable, according to the national housing strategy.

And the challenges for Canadians who don’t just need a decent, affordable roof over their head but also some supports to live healthy, independent lives are even greater.

That’s why the Trudeau government’s housing strategy, released in November, targets at least 2,400 new units specifically for people with a developmental disability. That’s far less than the total need, of course, but identifying the need within this vulnerable group is an important start.

The question now is how to bridge the gap between identifying the need and meeting it in a way that creates good community-integrated housing. And sustainable over the long term.

Happily, there’s an innovative, working example of how some of this need can be met.

Field of Dreams, located in Elmira, Ont., gives people with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to live independently in their own homes. That’s far better than the institutions they were once shut away in and the group homes with full-time oversight that have largely replaced those institutions.

Their independent living is assisted by tenants in the same small apartment complexes who take on the role of “good neighbours.” They’re on hand to provide a little help when needed in exchange for more affordable rent.

It’s one of those all too rare win-win scenarios.

A seven-unit apartment building provides four to five homes for tenants with developmental disabilities and two to three homes for good neighbours. It’s a creative response that provides for a series of needs.

Crucially, it fosters independent living and maximizes abilities. That’s something many Canadians with a developmental disability have long and shamefully been denied.

And the enhanced social network in these buildings is far from a one-way street.

In the beginning, the innovator behind the Field of Dreams homes, Greg Bechard, expected the good neighbours would be the ones always providing the support and the other tenants the ones who were always in need of it. Turns out, that’s not how it goes.

“It’s interesting,” he says, “how that has changed and the relationships are reciprocal.”

That is the very essence of any healthy community.

If all that weren’t reason enough to celebrate this model, there’s a final factor. It’s low cost. This type of mixed housing operates for a fraction of what it takes to keep a traditional government-funded group home going.

A group home for a handful of residents with 24-hour staffing can easily run to $400,000 or more per year. This mixed housing model costs just $45,000 to $60,000 a year — and that’s paid entirely through rent revenues.

Canada’s national housing strategy is a 10-year, $40-billion plan to reduce chronic homelessness by half and give half a million more Canadians a decent place to call home. It’s desperately needed. It will build new affordable housing, renovate existing stock, and eventually provide a housing benefit to help families pay the rent.

As big a number as $40 billion sounds, inevitably it won’t go far enough.

Creative, community-led housing models like Field of Dreams help ensure that the money goes as far as it can. And, just as importantly, that the housing is something Canadians can be proud of far into the future.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2018/04/16/an-affordable-place-to-call-home.html

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