Poor go to the back of the line for housing

Posted on September 28, 2011 in Inclusion Delivery System

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TheStar.com –
Published On Tue Sep 27 2011.   Patty Winsa, Urban Affairs Reporter

If the long wait lists for social housing across the province weren’t proof enough, a new report shows that the chronological system used to place families in homes is failing the poor.

Families living in poverty are being bumped down on the first-come-first-served municipal lists by families escaping domestic abuse, who leapfrog to the front of the line because of a provincial policy that gives them priority.

Overall, the system is so broken that, according to a new study, up to 70 per cent of applicants just give up when they can’t find housing within four years and drop off the list.

The study, by a task force of social housing advocate groups and municipalities including Toronto, Peel and Halton, shows that annually, fewer than half of the subsidized units in the GTA go to the low-income residents who have signed on to social housing wait lists in good faith. On average, their names will languish there for a minimum of five years before getting a unit.

Battered families, who represent only 4 percent of social housing applicants, are getting 43 percent of the units, most of them within six months.

The Star first reported on the impact of the domestic-abuse policy last year, when municipal housing managers from Toronto and Peel said that of the two- and three-bedroom units that became available in 2009, 75 and 83 per cent respectively went to families fleeing abuse. In York, Halton and Peel, the proportion ranged from 40 to 50 per cent.

This Special Priority Policy impact study is the “first province-wide picture” confirming that the problem is widespread. It says that across the province, abused families are housed in less than six months and that the provincial policy is “having an adverse impact on housing opportunities of chronological applicants.”

But the solution isn’t to remove abused families from wait lists, says Joan Kaczmarski, who is responsible for Peel’s social housing. “Social housing provides a very important role for all people. There are very many different areas of vulnerability, and victims of domestic abuse are certainly one.”

Instead, she says, “We need to look at ways of creating affordable housing and (solutions) that provide that broader opportunity for all people.”

The study points out that it would take 16 years to find housing for everyone in the GTA if abuse victims were added to the chronological list.

More than 33 municipal housing providers across the province provided data for the year-long project, the initial phase of a longer study that will look at the success of placing abused families in social housing, where they may need additional supports such as counseling and child care.

In Peel, where wait lists are longest, even a victim of domestic abuse can wait one to three years, because there just isn’t enough affordable housing to meet the needs.

“We’d like to see the senior levels of government engaged, because this is an issue we all have to address,” says Kaczmarski. “No one level of government or group can address it alone.”

The report took longer than expected because housing providers across the province didn’t have a standardized format to collect information on their waiting lists.

“During the download (of social housing costs in 2002) the province didn’t provide any of the service managers with any assistance in setting up data collection,” says Margie Carlson, director of policy research and networks for the nonprofit Social Housing Services Corporation, which partially funded the study. “If we don’t have the data, we can’t really say anything.”

Priority for abuse victims: the impact

Percentage of families housed in 2009 who were priority (domestic-abuse)

Province: 34%

GTA: 43.4%

Average wait time: Six months

Percentage of applicants housed in 2009 who were on chronological wait lists

Province: 45%

GTA: 38.7%

Average wait time: GTA, 5.1 years; other urban, 2.4 years; rural, 1 year

(Figures above do not include local priority and special-needs families, which in the GTA make up 17.9% of the families housed.)

Applicants on waiting lists in 2010 by type

Special priority: 3.5%

Local priority: 9.4%*

Chronological: 85%

SOURCE: SPP Impact Study

*Some municipalities can also decide to make other groups a priority, such as the homeless.

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