It's A Right!: Affordable and Accessible Housing
Accessible, affordable housing is a right in Canada
By Spencer van Vloten
What Is Accessible Housing?
Accessible housing is housing that's:
Affordable: If housing is not affordable, it's difficult or impossible to access
Physically accessible: People with physical limitations can still freely access the living space
Welcoming: There's a welcoming and friendly atmosphere for persons with disabilities
Close to community services and amenities: People can readily access health care, the grocery store, recreation, etc.
Inherent to accessible housing are:
Choice: People choose where and how to live; they're not forced or coerced into a space
Stability: People with disabilities have a lasting home. They are not forced to move constantly.
Diversity: People with disabilities live among the broader community; they're not segregated
Accessible Housing Is A Right
Accessible housing is a right in Canada:
Canada signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Article 19 of the Convention states that persons with disabilities have the right to:
"choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and without obligation to live in a particular living arrangement"
"a range of in-home, residential and other community support services to support living and inclusion in the community, and to prevent isolation or segregation from the community"
In other words, Canadians with disabilities have a RIGHT to accessible housing
But this right is NOT being honoured. Instead, in BC, persons on provincial disability assistance:
Receive only $375 a month for shelter (MLAs get a roughly $2000 monthly housing allowance)
Are disproportionately homeless
Have to deal with ongoing accessibility barriers in their living spaces
Are forced, coerced, or with left no choice but to live in institutions, which are too often places of abuse and neglect
What Needs To Be Done?
Inclusive housing requires a combination funding, of land or existing buildings, money, vision, understanding, planning design and building expertise, appropriate zoning, and paid supports for individuals who live there. There is no one magic solution.
Municipal (City) Government
Housing is built at the 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.
Municipal government can be an ally and enabler of inclusive housing projects through:
Land-use planning and zoning
Land they could donate, or lease/sell at a discount
Supporting projects through measures such as tax exemptions, waiving development permit costs and fast-tracking applications
Grants or other ways to support affordable housing
Provincial and Federal Government
Much 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.
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. They play a key role in providing funding to developers that allows the developers to offset costs and therefore offer housing in the lowest rent ranges.
Government funding at the provincial or federal level is really needed to make affordable housing like this a reality on a broad scale, but there are other provincial and federal structural supports which are part of the equation.
Raise disability assistance: By having more money, disabled persons would have more housing options
Increase subsidies for accessible housing developments: This would allow developers to offset development costs and thereby provide more low-cost housing
Restructure provincial and federal supplement programs: Many supplements are available only to narrow groups, such as students. What the supplements have in common is that they are provided to persons in financial need. By making financial need the basis for eligibility, rather than breaking eligibility into narrow and exclusive groupings, there would be more funding opportunities for persons with disabilities, which would help them financially and therefore in finding housing.
Housing funding should be transferable: Any funding that disabled persons get for housing should be able to be applied to the housing of their choice; they shouldn't be forced into living in a certain arrangement in order to get the funding.
Provide more (and better) employment and job training programs for persons with disabilities: Disabled persons who can work would have more tools which to find, maintain, and advance in employment, in turn giving them more financial resources to afford housing
There is no single magic solution; the approach must use a combination of measures
Benefits Of Accessible Housing
Inclusive housing is a right, and honouring it would have many positive effects:
Accessibility benefits everyone: Accessibility makes things easier to access for everyone, including seniors, children, pregnant women, and so on.
It enriches communities: It creates new experiences, interactions, and fosters a spirit of inclusion
It reflects well on developers: Developers would have stable tenants and win respect for being socially responsible
It would help strengthen local economies: If housing were more affordable, persons with disabilities would have more to spend at local businesses
And most of all, it would allow people with disabilities to have greater choice and independence, and a higher quality of living.
What Can I Do?
Housing expert Brian Clifford notes that one of the biggest reasons that there hasn't been more support for accessible housing, is simply that policymakers don't hear about the issue enough. Let's change that!
Contact Your MLA, MP, and City Councillors
Let them know that they need to call for change
RE: Permanently increasing income and disability assistance
Dear [politician’s name],
My name is [name] and I am writing to you from [city /constituency] in order to urge you to support measures to create accessible and affordable housing for persons with disabilities. This is a right for persons with disabilities, established by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Canada has signed.
(Optional: share your story about how difficult finding housing has been for you)
Poor and disabled people have been living in an ongoing crisis of inaccessible and unaffordable housing for far too long, which has been maintained by [municipal/provincial/federal] legislation and policy. Persons with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by poverty, homelessness, and unstable housing, with little done to change the situation.
Please respect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities, and do the correct thing: make the $300 increase permanent. I urge you to:
1. [Insert reason from 'What Needs To Be Done' section]
2. [Insert reason from 'What Needs To Be Done' section]
3. [Insert reason from 'What Needs To Be Done' section]
Thank you for your consideration.
Read And Share The Stories
Read and share first-hand accounts about the struggle of living on current disability assistance rates. Although some of these address disability assistance in particular, many of the stories capture the difficulty of finding housing.
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BC Disability Editor