Skip to content

Housing crisis needs a solution

When you work in a school, goodbyes are expected.

When you work in a school, goodbyes are expected. At the end of the year and with tears, ceremonies and gifts, you bid farewell to departing staff and matriculating students, and

though the farewells are bittersweet they are part of the nature of things. But in ever increasing numbers, educators are saying unexpected goodbyes to more and more students not because they are graduating, but because their families can no longer afford their homes and have to move.

IN MY David Over the last couple of years there has been tremendous press about poverty in schools. This call to action has supplied our neediest schools with everything from socks to pencils to hot lunches, and my schools have benefited from that outpouring of generosity. Make no mistakethis largesse is appreciated, but unfortunately such measures are merely stop gaps that do little to address the key cause of childhood poverty, and that is the inability of a growing number of families to afford to put a roof over the heads of their children.

The result is an increase in student transiency, and this relentless movement causes catastrophic results for all students as well as the schools and districts that serve them. A quick Google search produces many studies that clearly articulate the

devastating effects of transiency on educational outcomes: higher failure rates, poor attendance, lack of connection between families and school among others. But what is equally worrisome is that high student transiency

has been shown to have a negative effect on not just the students who move, but on the performance

of other students and the entire system as well.

For schools and districts that experience a high transiency rate, staffing and budgetary planning are often thrown for a loop when significant numbers of unplanned students - especially students with language or other learning needs - arrive after schools are staffed, and schools are left scrambling to find the resources needed to support them. Ultimately, districts with high costs of housing bleed students, and the impact of this exodus has well-documented and profound negative repercussions on the financial and educational bottom line of the entire school district.

To be clear, the critical affordable housing crisis in Metro Vancouver is neither a right nor left wing issue; it is a crisis that transcends education, politics, economics and social planning, and it won't be solved without involvement from all stakeholders. Full disclosure: I

am not a city planner, economist or professional advocate, but the solution does not lie in the creation of vast numbers of municipal or provincially funded low income housing projects in forgotten corners of the city. The cost of such construction is prohibitive, and for years, all three levels of government in this country have done little except wait and look to others to fund it.

Perhaps more importantly however are the social consequences of this structural ghettoization. Go to the Downtown Eastside to see what happens when through design, neglect or "market forces," a city's most vulnerable population is shunted aside. So what to do? Perhaps I am naïve but to me, the beginning of the answer to our housing crisis starts in aligning existing housing stock with our existing social housing agencies. The City of Burnaby has made a positive first

move towards legalizing secondary suites; the next step in this city and across the province is to give the owners of these tens of thousands of suites incentives to partner with an agency like B.C. Housing. Let landlords charge market rent to B.C. Housing who in turn would have no problem finding subsidized tenants to fill those suites. This partnership would bring secondary suites out of the underground economy, provide landlords peace of mind and even with B.C. Housing paying the difference between the subsidized and market rent, the cost to the taxpayer would be a fraction of the construction of new units. And most importantly, it could be done now.

Additionally, I see no reason why developers could also not be enticed to set aside a percentage of non-market units in each of the dozens of towers and condominium projects planned or underway in

the city. On this front, the city can show real leadership by giving corporate or property tax breaks to developers or through selling city land under market value in return for housing stock. By doing so, decent housing options for low income families can be built quickly, at minimal cost and spread seamlessly and invisibly throughout the entire city.

Finding creative ways to provide stable housing options for people of all income levels requires bold and creative action. It is the crucial first step in breaking the cycle of poverty, of improving educational outcomes, protecting schools, students and families from the devastating effects of transiency, and creating a society where all, regardless of income, can find a place, contribute and make a difference.

David Starr is a published author and principal at Stoney Creek Community School in Burnaby.