Thursday, May 28, 2009

Housing Part Four: Barriers to Safe Housing

So now that I’ve written about kinds of housing, reason people need housing, and what safe housing looks like, it’s only fitting to consider some of the barriers to safe housing.  Why, in an industrialized nation such as Canada doesn’t everyone have safe housing?? 


The fact is, where I live, there number of people in need of safe housing simply outweigh the number of units available.  I live in a city with an extremely low vacancy rate, and that rate is spread through all levels of housing.  If we were to measure the number of people living in substandard, crowded and unsafe housing and compare it to the current vacancy rate the difference would be staggering.  There just isn’t enough housing. 


When you rent an apartment, there is more to think about then just the cost of rent.  There’s also the damage deposit, and this is a big one.  Almost always, no damage deposit means no rental, and in some cases you are expected to put down first and last month’s rent as well.  This can be simply unreachable for people living on fixed incomes, and since you don’t get your last damage deposit back till you move out… Oh, and did I mention that it is impossible to rent an apartment one what our social assistance system pays for a single persons rent, let alone a safe one? 

Poor Rental History/Bad References

Once you develop a spotty rental history, it’s really hard to get away from it.  I actually had a client turned down as soon as the caretaker saw his name, he’d heard rumors about him in the area and wasn’t willing to risk it.  For someone trying to turn their life around, it can be really frustrating to get shot down for this reason.  Of course, looking at the landlord’s perspective, why risk it! 


When you have a disability, including mental health concerns, finding housing becomes even harder.  How do you find a place, which meets your unique needs, often on a fixed income?  With such a low vacancy rate, even less are assessable, and even less of those are affordable. 


Another barrier to finding safe housing is literacy and language.  What if you can’t read or speak English.  How do you go through ads, answer and ask questions etc… if you can’t follow the language.  Immigrants often have a very difficult time finding housing and often have little money, which adds to the problem. 


I’d love to say that I live in a country where no one cares about the colour of a person’s skin, or the fact that two men are renting a one-bedroom apartment.  But I don’t.  And the truth is, there are some groups of people who are going to be able to find housing a lot more easily then others.  For example, it took me a total of two apartment visits to find one I wanted this time.  And I got it.  Actually, I got both; it’s just that I only needed one, so I chose the one that best suited my needs.  Of course, I’m a white professional, and that does matter, even though it shouldn’t. 


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