Social housing: an ever-increasing necessity
The Quebec government’s plan to build 2,000 social housing units over the next two years falls short of meeting existing needs, says Fran çois Saillant, coordinator of the Front d’Action Populaire en Réaménagement Urbain (FRAPRU), a coalition that advocates for tenants’ rights.
“This number is ridiculously low,” Saillant says. “Affordable housing is still relatively expensive, with rents rising faster than the tenants ’ ability to pay. We would like to see the existing number of social housing units double. ”
According to Saillant, rents have increased by 24% since 2000. In Europe, between 4-6 out of 10 dwellings are social housing units, while the figure falls to 1 out of 10 in Quebec.
Tenants make up 65.6% of Montreal households, with the number of people over 65 steadily increasing, from 8% in 1991 to 21.2% in 2006.
While the new dwellings are intended for seniors, it leaves low-income families, whose situations are often as precarious, with less aid, Saillant says. “You don’t rob Peter to pay Paul,” Saillant had said when the plan was first announced last spring. “There’s enough wealth in our society to house everyone.” According to FRAPRU, it is impossible to find a 5-room apartment for under $500 in Montreal, where many tenants spend 30% of their income on rent alone.
As well, Saillant says there is no clear long-term strategy for low-income seniors as they age and become less autonomous over time. “We don’t know of any details beyond two years. The future is not at all secure.”
If you have sufficient financial resources, you’ll have access to the services you’ll need, says Sheri McLeod, executive director of the NDG Senior Citizens’ Council, an organization that advocates on behalf of low-income seniors in the West End.
“If you have enough money you can get anything. The issue is affordable care and how our public system affects seniors in their own homes or who are waiting for placement in a long term facility. ” People requiring services face endless waiting lists while people needing chronic care are sometimes given temporary beds in hospitals. “Services are expensive and a person living on a low or middle income is not in a good position at this point in time, ” McLeod says.
Poverty and insecurity eventually take their toll, says McLeod. “The rest of the quality of life in other areas begins to suffer — people compromise on food, medication and transportation. When you eat insufficiently, you become weaker, depressed, don ’t go out, and a spiral of isolation really sets in.”
Seniors do best in their own environment where they are comfortable, but McLeod has seen older people, who have been in their apartments for many years paying a low rent, pressured to move into a facility or to another neighbourhood before they were ready. “In certain areas, where rents have gone up dramatically and where there is a concentration of older people, the situation is serious. It ’s worse in areas where the housing market is so strong.”
Both McLeod and Saillant have observed that seniors, even when they know their rights, are more reluctant to fight for them. “Older people are more fragile and feel more vulnerable,” Saillant says. “They’re scared to move and want a good relationship with the landlord, so they are more reluctant to refuse a rent increase. ”