Today in the legislature I was up during Question Period. I took the opportunity to question government on their strategy for affordable housing. The Minister of Finance recently announced that there’s more than a $444 million surplus in this past year’s budget. I attempted to provide a compelling case to government that the costs of inaction are greater than the costs of action. In particular I pointed out that using the one-time budget surplus to make capital investments in housing would reduce ongoing operating commitments in health, social and justice systems.
While the Minister’s response to my initial question was certainly not what I was hoping for, I was very pleased with his response to my supplemental question. Below is the transcript of our exchange:
Victoria’s Coalition to End Homelessness estimates that it costs about $25,500 a year to maintain a shelter bed in the capital regional district. On the other hand, the cost to run new supportive housing is only about $16,700 per unit per year. The cost of providing additional rental supplements, including support, is even lower, at $6,800 per unit annually.
The evidence is clear. Since Utah launched its homelessness reduction strategy, a strategy that involved — you guessed it — giving homes to the homeless, they’ve reduced chronic homelessness by 72 percent, and they’ve saved an average of $8,000 per person in health, social and justice system costs.
The same is true elsewhere. For example, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness calculated that for each dollar spent on housing and supports for the chronically homeless, about $2 in savings is found in health, social and justice services.
The Minister of Finance recently announced that there’s more than a $444 million surplus in this past year’s budget.
My question to the Minister Responsible for Housing is this. Will the government commit to using the one-time budget surplus to make capital investments in housing in order to reduce ongoing operating commitments in health, social and justice systems?
Hon. R. Coleman: Thanks to the member opposite for the question. I’m always happy to get up and actually talk about housing in this House, which is seldom, because we don’t usually ask these questions. The fact of the matter is that in British Columbia we are home to the most successful housing strategy in Canadian history, right here in British Columbia.
In the last five years alone over 6,000 people that were formerly homeless in this province are no longer homeless because of the outreach workers, the money that’s been invested, and the people being connected to housing and supports by our people across the province.
We’ve purchased over 50 buildings across the province of B.C. and renovated for housing and have also spent over half a billion dollars, just in the last couple of years, in building additional housing supports for people. In addition to that we also, today, in total, have 100,000 households in British Columbia that receive some form of support in their housing in British Columbia.
There are, today, 27,000-plus families in households receiving rent assistance where they live, in communities across British Columbia. The budget for housing has tripled in the last number of years simply because of the commitment of this government to the success of dealing with homelessness, mental health and addiction.
I recognize that this is not answer period, but my question was not about what the government has done. My question is about what the government will do in the future.
The reality is that recent analysis showed the least affordable cities in the world were Hong Kong and Vancouver. In fact, in the top five in Canada, four of them were in B.C.: Victoria, Kelowna, Fraser Valley, Vancouver. They’re all in the top five. Toronto is the only one that wasn’t from BC.
The reality is that if you’re living on income assistance, you are getting a total of $375 as your housing allowance, whereas the average person on income assistance is paying $501 in Victoria. If a landlord were to actually follow the rental tenancy office allowable rents, rents could have increased 30 percent since 2007, the time that this rental income assistance has remained fixed from.
The evidence is very clear. The costs of inaction are simply greater than the costs of action.
I reiterate my question. When will the government commit to (a) increasing that shelter allowance and dealing with British Columbia’s homelessness problem, and (b) providing more affordable housing to actually deal with this problem, which is a tax on our social, health and other justice systems?
Hon. R. Coleman: To the member opposite, the B.C. Housing budget for capital is actually pretty good for the next number of fiscal years. It has continuously been put in the three-year fiscal plan as we sit down and work with communities like Victoria, identify sites like we have in Victoria for three buildings that we’ve recently done and other buildings we’ve bought and renovated, partnerships that we do with the non-profit sector in order to be able to connect that sector in to being there for the people whose housing they’re going to operate.
I’m happy actually…. To the member opposite, if you want to come and have a visit, we can actually explore some of your ideas. One thing I do know, when we wrote the housing strategy in 2005 — which is, by the way, again the most successful one in this country — we opened it up to being open to ideas.
The whole idea around it was that if we actually saw something in Portland or Utah or somewhere else and we thought it could work here in British Columbia, we were not disinclined at all, in our minds, to steal a good idea that might help the citizens of this province. That’s why the housing ministry, B.C. Housing, has such a dynamic mandate, in order to go out and look for their solutions on behalf of B.C. citizens.
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