Meeting the Mayor – Good Things to Come?

As mentioned in this post, I had the opportunity to participate with the Mayor on a panel looking at poverty in Canada.  Although I don’t agree with all of his policy directions, I have long thought of him as a potential resource in the city due to his background as the former national Minister of Housing.  So, when at the event he said he would like to hear more about my work, I took the opportunity and followed-up by arranging a meeting.

There were three things that I wanted to focus on in the meeting: the lack of rent-geared-to-income (RGI) housing mentioned in the community plan on housing, the challenges facing supportive housing, and the possibility for him to take a lead on intergovernmental work on housing in Canada.  Overall, I was very impressed with the perspective that Mayor Fontana brought to housing.  He was well aware of the idea of ‘housing first’ being an internationally recognized solution to homelessness.  He also recognized the importance of spreading social housing throughout the community rather than just creating large social housing developments.  Here is how he addressed the three issues:

  1. RGI units: Mayor Fontana agreed that the RGI model is more affordable housing, and that it has worked well in the past.  He also sees this as a means to spreading social housing through the community.  However, we both recognized that the current incentive system is for affordable housing (ie. 80% of market rates) versus RGI.
  2. Similarly, Mayor Fontana agreed that supportive housing (ie. housing with supports) is much more difficult than affordable housing.  This is where he said that intergovernmental work had the most promise, that breaking down the silos of housing and health might make space for funding case workers or health professionals to be a part of housing developments.  However, this point seemed the farthest from being connected to meaningful solutions.
  3. Mayor Fontana seemed to relate to the idea of London becoming a leader in social housing through his unique experiences.  It seemed evident that he was already being tapped by politicians at other levels to work on housing platforms.  Most importantly, he is convening a housing roundtable this week, and I feel privileged to be invited.  I will keep you appraised as to where this is heading.

Overall, it was a very good meeting, and hopefully a sign of better things to come for our community.  An 8-9 year waiting list is not acceptable, and we have a lot of ground to make up since the cancelling of the national housing program in the early 90’s.  Also, there are a group of people for whom affordable housing is not sufficient, and they become the chronically homeless.  It seems to me that this demonstrates an urgent gap in the system that the Mayor can be a part of plugging.

5 thoughts on “Meeting the Mayor – Good Things to Come?

  1. Interesting. I have seen RGI fail so many times and for so many reasons. Supportive housing is the leading way to go on this. I’m looking forward to seeing how things change, because they can’t get too much worse.

  2. Alexis, I would be very interested to talk with you further about the failures of RGI. What is most important from my perspective is that RGI is more affordable housing than affordable housing (at a 70% or 80% market rate). I know that RGI is no longer well incentivised from a landlord perspective, and is therefore fading from use. Perhaps the answer is just changing the policy of what is ‘affordable’ housing?

  3. Beyond supportive housing, I think we need tenant controlled affordable housing. Too often, supportive housing is used as a means of increasing discipline and surveillance over poor or marginalized populations. Thus, supportive housing tends to be monitored by staff members (front desk clerks, workers that visit, etc.), the rooms of the residents may be entered, police have greater access than they would have to private homes, residents are required to follow certain plans in terms of meeting with social workers or mental health workers or whomever else, and ongoing residency requires compliance with plans formulated by others, and so on. A lot about that seems problematical to me and to others I know who have mobilized from the grass roots here in Vancouver (I’m talking about groups composed of residents of Vancouver’s downtown eastside — those who are homeless, living in SROs, or living in supportive housing — and who are working with other allies to push for tenant-controlled affordable housing in the downtown eastside).

    Just a thought to add to the conversation. Keep up the good work, Abe!

  4. A very important comment, Dan. It is valuable for us in London, before we enact supportive housing, to see how it has been done in other communities. I think the first step is to consider the ‘why’, which in our case is that people who are most chronically homeless have often had multiple evictions from affordable housing.

    The next step is to consider the ‘how’, to which you have offered valuable insight.

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