Friday, February 12, 2010

Shelter As Investment

When did a home morph into 'real estate'? When did the roof over one's head transform into a 'market opportunity'? When did our society start viewing the place where we raise our families, lay our heads, withdraw to soothe hurts, draw sustenance from our animals and contentment from growing things become valued strictly in terms of monetary worth?

I read articles like this and I feel sick with fury. One owner of a three-bedroom $600,000 home has flipped it for $5,000 above the asking price and something larger. How nice for her.

In the meantime, housing solutions not just affordable but CHEAP are never considered for people who have no shelter whatever, are at risk of losing what they have, or live in substandard housing. Oftentimes already built, onsight solutions are outright rejected for fear homeless people will move into the neighbourhood.

The logic of the latter never fails to baffle me. If people who are presently homeless acquire shelter in your neighbourhood, do they not subsequently become NOT homeless? And why is it OK for you to have decent housing but not someone else? Who the hell are you that your life should count for more?

It's not rocket science to reduce homelessness only to those people who choose it as a lifestyle. (Yes, there are those who do choose it.)

Temporary measures include permitting and supporting tent cities, such as Dignity Village, not bulldozing them.* They include providing serviced parking areas for people whose homes are on wheels - cars, trailers.

Permanent solutions must begin by changing the municipal by-laws that effectively enshrine NIMBYism. In few communities is it possible under current laws for the construction of a village of tiny houses. In my own community, laneway housing is still not permitted, despite Vancouver's recent example. (Regarding the latter, $150,000 to $200,000, which includes BC Hydro servicing, are the costs typically mentioned for the construction of a tiny house on existing property. The City of Vancouver is allowing these laneway houses only to be rented. Why would property owners bother? The costs cited are absurd. A tiny house can be built for one-tenth the price.)

The tiny house movement has coincided with the green movement. Downsizing is in vogue. Municipal laws and other regulations pertaining to buying property and house construction haven't kept up.

The problem of affordable housing isn't one of lack of innovative ideas for shelter materials, construction and community design. The developers are out there who would build these things.

The problem isn't affordability of the shelters themselves. People in the US are building their own homes for NOTHING, from recycled scraps, from shipping containers, from old railway cars. Others are buying materials for under $3,000. Still others buy their tiny houses pre-built for under $25,000. Then there is the mobile home option: fifth wheels and other trailers. Too many used trailers to count sit unoccupied on RV dealer lots.

In other words, the problem isn't the HOUSING or the sheltering structure.

The problem is systemic NIMBYism, the failure of municipalities to accommodate changing community needs, the lack of will on the part of politicians at all levels of government to open their eyes and see where the problems truly lie, and the "I'm all right" attitude that blinds too many property owners from seeing the need for change that would ultimately benefit us all.

The problem is the LAND on which to place the housing, land whose use is not restricted by municipal laws. The problem is ALLOWABLE housing.

The problem has NOTHING TO DO WITH AFFORDABILITY and EVERYTHING to do with keeping 'those people' out.

*See especially Chapter 4 of that document. Former residents of Toronto's Tent City talk about their homes, their community - the place they felt most supported - having been destroyed.


Kim said...

I agree completely Chrystal. It's totally a lack of political will. Look at the Sooke to Renfrew giveaway. That's my hometown. We rented a place in Otter Point for a decade. Lovingly tended it, brought in slate from Renfrew, flatrock from Jordan River and planted an eden to support the abundant life we shared our little piece of the wilderness with. Then, the market went crazy and the landlord decided to "liquidate" his "assets". Ten little bungalows = $3 million. Our loss of home security, priceless. Now owned from the Alberta oilpatch, it sits, empty, unloved and overgrown. The people who own it contribute $0 to Sooke's economy, after property taxes. We had to move to Langford, couldn't find an affordable place in Sooke that would take a dog!!! Sorry if I rambled, you hit a nerve.

Chrystal Ocean said...

This always hits a nerve with me, Kim, and we've lots of company. Same re finding a place in this "greatest place on Earth" (TM) to share with an animal companion. Only if you can afford to buy your own strata-free home have you the choice to have pets or not. The rest of us are at the behest of the property owners and/or strata boards.

Kim said...

I used to dream of owning a piece of it, as long as I can remember and I did for a while in my young adult years. But divorce and downsizing downsized my dreams too, it seems. Later I dreamed of winning the lottery. I'd buy an acreage and make a compound, housed with small modular homes, showcased with a community garden, livestock and a working community forest. Most importantly, I would people it with a diversity of families, wise people, displaced forestry workers, real working class poeple, whether they could still work or not. Does that sound so hard? PS. I don't even dare to dream anymore.

Chrystal Ocean said...

I continue to dream about having my own tiny place. Began writing about it a year ago. It's hard to keep the dream alive when offers are made yet circumstances exactly like those mentioned in the post mean you can't accept them.