The need for affordable housing

It has always puzzled me how a community as affluent as Summerland could face issues of poverty.

It has always puzzled me how a community as affluent as Summerland could face issues of poverty.

Here, where some enjoy a high standard of living, others are struggling to cope with basic expenses.

Last year, the Summerland Food Bank and Resource Centre provided food to nearly 600 people in 259 households.

That works out to roughly five per cent of our population.

While some of the food bank recipients are people on social assistance and disability income, the largest group was made of people who are employed.

How is it possible for an employed person to be in need of the food bank’s services?

Part of the answer is the high cost of housing.

Home prices are high, whether for a single family detached house, a duplex, a townhouse or a condominium unit.

According to the figures from B.C. Assessment, a typical house here has a value of $455,000.

While our assessed values did not increase as much as in other communities, the price of housing is rising faster than income levels.

And when home prices increase, rent rates tend to follow.

Why does the cost of housing matter in Summerland? Why not just market ourselves as an upscale community, a place for the well-to-do?

Such thinking is extremely short-sighted.

We need people to work in the service industry. We need people willing to work in our stores, restaurants and tourist-related businesses. We need support staff at care facilities. We need people providing agricultural help and taking on all sorts of other roles within our community.

These people need to have housing at rates they can afford.

Shelter costs, according to common wisdom, should be no more than 32 per cent of a household’s income.

This isn’t just an arbitrary figure. It’s also used by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Commission as well as by lending agencies. Difficulties will arise if housing costs exceed this threshold, especially for those with modest incomes.

Shelter costs include mortgage payments, property taxes and heat for homeowners or rent and heat for renters. Other utilities are not included.

For someone with a household income $40,000 a year, 32 per cent for shelter works out to $1,067 a month. For a household with an income of $30,000 a year, the 32 per cent figure allows for $800 a month in housing costs.

The people in these examples would be working full time and earning well above British Columbia’s minimum wage of $10.25 an hour.

Try finding a place to live at these prices in Summerland or the rest of the region. It’s no easy task.

If housing costs are much higher than 32 per cent of one’s income, other compromises may be required.

Even with the best belt-tightening measures in place, coping with high housing costs can be a challenge, especially for those already living on modest incomes.

A few days of lost wages as a result of illness or one big expense such as a major vehicle repair can present a serious crisis.

The rising cost of housing isn’t just our problem here in the Okanagan Valley. It affects people in other parts of this province and in major centres across Canada.

As a community, we have talked about providing affordable housing, but so far, little has been done.

Somehow, we need to move from discussing the concept to making it a reality.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.