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In the City of Vancouver, 44 per cent of tenants do not have affordable rent.  The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation defines affordable housing as shelter that costs less than 30 per cent of before-tax household income. ACORN BC says,” One in five households in Metro Vancouver spend half of their income or more on shelter”.

One year ago, the City of Vancouver said that $3,702 rent was “affordable” housing for a 3 bedroom and $1,903 for a one bedroom; and in East Vancouver a three bedroom rent of $3,365 was affordable.  

Rental housing is scarce.  A single mother is quoted on a CBC release saying, "Everything that was in my price range was kind of dumpy and just not suitable for my daughters and I." At a recent neighbourhood conversation held in Little Mountain Riley Park, community members commented on the lack of rental housing in the area citing that most housing is owned.  There are approximately 1.5 million renters in British Columbia today. Vacancy rates in BC are some of the lowest in the country, averaging 1.3% and in some communities, such as Vancouver and Kelowna, the vacancy rate has fallen below 0.9%.

Affordable housing is an issue in BC and more so in Vancouver. In April 2018, Premier John Horgan appointed a Rental Housing Task Force to advise on how to improve security and fairness for renters and rental housing providers in BC. https://engage.gov.bc.ca/rentalhousingtaskforce/   Their task was to receive submissions from interested parties, review the information and offer advice to the BC government on how it can “ensure safe, secure and affordable rental housing in BC”

Reading through the submissions that are available on line and comments provided by our members, you will see common threads.  A few comments are:

  • Councilor Jean Swanson says rents will keep rising unless vacancy control and rent freezes are implemented.
  • The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition says, “We are calling for stronger tenant protections including tying rent control to the unit as a central recommendation within an effective poverty reduction plan”. They add, “Without rent control tied to the unit, many of the government’s policy changes will not have the beneficial impact expected or hoped for”.  For example, the social assistance rate increases in the past year have been eaten up by increases in the cost of (SRO) rental housing.  Stronger tenant protections, and building affordable social and rental housing is needed.
  • The Office of the Seniors Advocate says, “The most vulnerable are the 20% per cent of seniors who are both low income and renters. The median income for BC seniors is $26,000 a year, who spend 35% of their income on housing, leaving them with $16,900 a year ($1400/month) to meet all other expenses. But, half of BC seniors who rent have a gross income of $21,000 ($1530 per month) or less. These seniors make tough choices on what bills to pay or prescriptions need to be filled (the deductible for Pharmacare was recently eliminated for those on low income but the co-payment remains). Many necessities including: assistance with housekeeping, grocery shopping, shoveling the sidewalk, a walker, eyeglasses and hearing aids, all have fees that add up and cannot be paid with their monthly income.
  • ACORN Members’ Top Three Priorities are Lack of affordable housing; Rent control loopholes; and Renovictions and demovictions.
  • Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says, “There is a grave risk that all the improvements and gains experienced for low-income people due to minimum wage increases, welfare rate increases, child care fee reductions and more will be wiped out by rent increases”.

At the same time, Canada recognizes housing as a human right.  So, what did the BC Government learn through the Rental Task Force and what is next?  While they have a Report with recommendations released in the fall 2018, let’s look at what the latest BC Budget included:

  • Funding for 200 Modular housing units but Councilor (and CCEC Member). Jean Swanson, who introduced the city’s motion calling for 600 more modular homes, recently estimated there’s a need for 2,500 units in Vancouver.
  • Establishing a province wide rent bank, which provides low-interest loans to renters who need immediate, short-term relief to prevent unnecessary evictions.
  • Providing additional benefits to seniors living independently in rental accommodation, through the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program, by an average of $930 per year,

There is also a groundswell of community members rallying and creating options to deal with the lack of affordable housing and coming up with various options.  For example, CCEC Member, the Galiano Community Loan Fund.  While they are not working specifically on the rental housing situation, they are providing funds to support housing on the Island and their story is worth mentioning. The fund was created by Galiano Islanders who have come together as lenders to support borrowers in the community who need access to affordable housing on the Island (and other needs).  Over the past 8 years, the fund has provided loan guarantees of approximately $100,000.  To date, they have not had one loan that has not been or is not being fully repaid.  Anita Braha, President for the Fund says, “Most, if not all of those loan guarantee decisions were made by the Board.  We know each other.  We are neighbours, friends, we may work together, we may volunteer together.  In most cases, the loans have a large component of character behind them”. 

Their model has been successful.  Anita says, “There seems to be a lot of interest in what I will call impact financing; that is, money raised and used to benefit people and communities”.  They have been contacted by various firms interested in community investment programs, seeking to better understand their fund and to get advice on this type of initiative. The Federal Government also recognizes the benefit of the social finance ecosystem and marketplace by investing $50million into an investment readiness stream  (Lauren Dobell, VCIB, Nov. 25/18)

Yes, housing and especially the lack of affordable rental housing is an issue.  Cities throughout B.C. have been too reliant on housing such as secondary suites to fill the rental stock.  We need to put more emphasis and reorient our thinking towards secure, long-term rental housing.

Share your thoughts and comments! 
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The nutritious diet recommended in the new Canada Food Guide is out of reach for millions of Canadians because they can’t afford it.

If we want to stop millions of Canadians from going to bed hungry every night, we need to ensure that they have the ability to access food. So, who is going hungry in this country?  We know that BC has the highest poverty rate in Canada. However, did you know that we have a growing community of working poor whose wages do not cover basic necessities? Inadequate wages, shrinking social assistance rates, meagre pensions, illness and disability are at the heart of food insecurity in this country.

Did you know that 31% of single mothers are missing meals so their kids can eat? Or that one in six children live in households that can’t afford to put supper on the table? In BC, the average monthly cost of the 2017 nutritious food basket for a family of four is now $1,019.  

Individuals don’t fare better. A person receives $760 per month on social assistance and has $18.25 per week to spend on food. Despite the two increases in the past year that have raised the rate to $760 per month, the additional $150 has been eaten by the increase of $130 in rents to Single Room Occupancy hotels in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (example).  Jean Swanson, speaking to her experience on the Welfare Food Challenge says, “It was hard eating on $19 a week (2017 amount). I tried, then cheated and gave up. The food was too boring and not nutritious. Dieticians have told us that you just can’t have a healthy diet on this paltry amount of money.”

The new Canada Food Guide aims to support people to live healthier lives. The new guide provides guidance on what we should eat that is more plants and plant-based protein, more whole grains, less sugar, less saturated fat—and more importantly,  how to eat—at home, with others, with joy and  pleasure. The addition of this social context is important. We know the power of food to connect us to our communities and neighbours thereby increasing our sense of belonging. 

The guidelines in the new Canada Food Guide are to be commended, especially introducing the social aspect on eating with friends, family and at home. As long as we continue to have poverty in our rich country, there will be millions of our neighbours who cannot afford to live healthier lives.  Poverty is the root of the problem for those who are food insecure. 

We encourage all our members to support the work of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition and Raise the Rates, and to support food and garden programs that allow all our community members to eat and share a meal together. CCEC will continue to advocate for decent living wages and fairer social benefits.

For more information:

The new Canada Food Guide highlights the biggest obstacle to healthy eating—poverty – McLeans Article

The New Canada Food Guide

Jean Swanson on Why the Welfare Food Challenge was cancelled in 2018

 * Food Costing in BC 2017: Assessing the affordability of healthy eating  October 2018

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Good for most families, disappointing for individuals.  The first-ever Poverty Reduction strategy reflected in the BC Budget announced February 19, 2019, brings good news for low-income families but did not ‘raise the rates’ to lift those on social assistance out of poverty. At the same time, some of the investments made, while small on the scale of the budget, may significantly change the lives of some of our more vulnerable community members.

BC has some of the highest levels of poverty in Canada for all age groups. In a wealthy province like ours, such poverty and homelessness is unfair and unnecessary. It is also extremely expensive.

This blog outlines a few areas of the budget we feel are of most interest to our members and member groups. We encourage you to read further through the links at the end of this blog.

For Families:

Student loans become interest-free as of today. A good start, however, some provinces provide grants that you don’t pay back and some countries provide free post-secondary education.  We will see improvements to employment training programs delivered by WorkBC, additional funding to increase access to adult basic education and English language training and a small funding boost for trades training.

The new BC Child Opportunity Benefit is great news for low-income families with children.  The expansion of the provincial child benefit increases the provision from 6 years old to 18 years old. However, by setting the threshold for the maximum benefit at $25,000 means that many single mothers and other families will see their benefit reduced while they are still below the poverty line.

For Individuals:

One in three singles live in poverty in BC.  180,000 people live on income assistance.

The increase to welfare and disability rates of $50 per month will remain thousands of dollars below the poverty line. Benefits for single, employable individuals will continue to be less than 50% of the poverty line (as measured by the Market Basket Measure). Now a single person on income assistance will receive $760 per month. It is felt that disability rates should be increased to $1,500 per month and index rates to the cost of inflation. It takes: 1.16billion to bring up income assistance rates to the poverty line in BC which is only 1% of the provincial GDP.

Homelessness

In BC, it is estimated that 7,700 people are homeless.

The Budget included funding for 200 new units of Temporary Modular Housing units beyond the 2000 announced last year. Also, $15 million in funding to develop a province-wide homeless response strategy over the next three years.  In Vancouver this past year, we brought online 650 units of housing, demonstrating that we can eliminate homelessness if this is prioritized.

Given the surpluses budgeted over the next three years, we have the capacity to invest more substantially in poverty and homelessness.  We look forward to seeing more significant measures and the long-term vision in the full poverty reduction strategy to be released shortly.

References used in this blog are:

 BC Poverty Reduction Coalition

Inclusion BC

Raise the Rates

Central 1 Flash Report

CCPA

 

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Which welfare model should we trial or adopt in BC? How are other countries addressing the welfare needs of their citizens? Here are a few recent announcements:   

  • Finland announced that it is stopping their trial of the Universal Basic Income (UBI) program at the end of 2018.  They are looking into alternative welfare schemes including the Universal Credit model.  
  • Read how the current Universal Basic Income trials are falling short of holding society-changing potential. Is Basic Income being setup to fail? 
  • The United Kingdom introduced a Universal Credit program in 2013,  However, a recent article in the Economist suggests that the roll-out is not going well.  

  What do you think we should be doing in BC?  Add Your Comments...

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Meet CCEC Member Tani Tupechka

Accessing good food during illness and the leg hold trap of poverty is the hardest thing I’ve ever faced.  In 2009, I was forced off work and onto disability because of a chronic muscle illness. Food took on a whole new meaning for me.

At the recent Vancouver Food Summit, a Coast Salish elder said, “food is life.” So true.  And food is also love and fueled by communities working together.

Each of us has an important role to play in food security - including community organizations like CCEC. I’ve done a good deal of food activism at the community level; in gardens, kitchens and educational initiatives.  I saw how access to good, affordable food is a huge barrier for many people – as it was for me.  NGOs and organizations need to receive the support to put even more energy and resources towards this key issue.

Accessing local food programs became key for my survival.  I had support from people in my community, but if it wasn’t for the financial help that CCEC provided, I would have gone hungry many times.  On top of that, in the spirit of community, the workers at CCEC always treated me with respect when I needed help, especially Atilio Alvarez.  He never once treated me like I was poor or untrustworthy, instead he was always kind, supportive and caring.  I am super grateful to him and the many people in our communities that helped me when I needed it most. 

Recently, I’ve been able to return to the community work I love and my own struggles have focused my energies on food justice.  Food security is at the heart of social and environmental justice. It ensures that people not only survive, but begin to thrive.  

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Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks Work Towards a Poverty Free BC 

Lettuce Turnip the Beet on Poverty Reduction Campaign

Meet CCEC Member, Vancouver Neighbouhood Food Networks (VNFN) and Ian Marcuse, tong-time CCEC Member who is one of the sponsors for this group.  Ian works for the Grandview Woodland Food Connection, one of the 14 neighbourhoods across Vancouver who belong to this Food Network.

The VNFN’s are a grassroots network of people, organizations and agencies collaborating on food initiatives to ensure that all community members have access to healthy, culturally appropriate and sustainably produced food.  Ian says, “We know that food brings people together and help to build connections, but it also divides us as a community.  There are too many people that don’t have enough money to pay for food.”  Financial constraints have been identified as an underlying cause of food insecurity by groups including the Dieticians of Canada.

That is why Ian and the other Network Coordinators are working with the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition to bring attention to the fact that British Columbia remains the only province in Canada without a formal plan to reduce poverty; and that having an effective and comprehensive poverty reduction plan is critical for achieving food security.  Ian says, “In our work, we engage with the most marginalized community members, witnessing first-hand the detrimental impact that barriers to accessing food and abject poverty can have on a persons’ health and well-being. It is often those with the greatest need for high quality nutritious food that face the most difficult barriers to accessing it.” 

He shares with us the story of one of the participants in the Bulk Buying Program.

"When I first met her just over one year ago, she said, “I am literally starving”, and now she says, “this program has saved my life".   I’ve worked 9 years in this job and no-one in Vancouver has said to me that they were starving.  I then learned that Anne is a pensioner, on a low fixed income, has multiple health and mobility related issues related to eating an unhealthy diet for many years.  She didn’t have money for healthy food.  Then her doctor told her she was malnourished and must eat more fruits, vegetables and unprocessed foods.

Being in the program has given her the option to eat more veggies.  Anne now enjoys trying new foods she would not normally eat, such as kale.   She also describes the community connection that has helped her.  Anne told me she feels that the program is not just a food pick up, but an event to look forward to and a chance to connect with others and share health and cooking tips and what works for others."

Ian tells us that the Food Networks campaign, Lettuce Turnip the Heat on Poverty Reduction – Vote!  is designed to make the connection between poverty and food insecurity.  He says, “Poverty is an election issue. We are working to raise our voices together to show candidates in the provincial election that we’ll be voting for politicians that commit to a strong and thorough poverty reduction plan.”

For more information and to see the the infographics developed by the VNFN group that show the impacts on each pillar on alleviating hunger, visit http://vancouverfoodnetworks.com/vote/  
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This recently completed poll of British Columbians provides insight into what is aggravating us. The Centre for Policy Alternatives commissioned the poll of more than 1000 residents and it confirms that affordability and inequality are troubling many of us. The poll also finds substantial support for carbon taxes and climate change mitigation, and overall support for fairer taxation. For more information click here.   
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During WW2 in Britain, the government introduced rationing to make sure that people got an equal amount of food every week.  Rationing lasted 14 years, ‘Dig For Victory’ gardens were everywhere, and the health of all improved, infant mortality decreased, and life expectancy increased.  Before the Second World War started Britain imported about 55 million tons of food a year from other countries.  During the war as supply lines were impacted, they had to take measures to increase their food self-sufficiency. The government was worried that as food became scarcer, prices would rise and poorer people might not be able to afford to eat.

Compare the food basket during rationing with what a person on welfare can buy in BC today:

We need to raise the rate! Read our blog on Raise the Rate or visit their Website.

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Hunger in Canada is not about the lack of food.  People are food insecure because they can’t afford to eat.  Poverty is a multi-dimensional problem.  We know that the systemic causes of poverty cannot be addressed overnight.  But, we need to put in place a Government-wide integrated approach to addressing the systemic issues of poverty based on the principles of social inclusion and collaboration.  And that we need to start with income.

Meet CCEC Member, the Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks and its’ member sponsors, Ian Marcuse and Joanne MacKinnon.  Ian says, “As the price of food escalates, increasing numbers of households are feeling the food affordability squeeze.  We are seeing more people coming to our programs that include community kitchens, community meals and food hampers (bulk buying and free baskets).  We are feeling under pressure as we need to expand our existing food programs and establish new food programs to serve those in need.  Ideally, rather than expanding existing food security programming, we would prefer to tackle the systems that result in food insecurity and end poverty."

So, who is going hungry?  We have a growing population of working poor in Canada whose wages do not cover basic necessities.  2/3 of food insecure people are working.  We know that inadequate wages, shrinking social assistance rates, meager pensions, illness and disability are at the heart of food insecurity.  More than 4 million people in Canada are unsure about where they’ll eat next or skip meals so their kids can eat.   1 in 8 people are food insecure but only 25% access the food bank.

The Neighbourhood Food Networks, with 12 part-time funded coordinators, are part of the Greenest City Action Plan to address food security and to increase all residents’ access to healthy, culturally appropriate food.  Joanne MacKinnon says, “We believe in the right-to-food, and social justice are at the forefront of our philosophy and how we approach our work.”  She continues, “We work with our program participants but are engaged and contribute their diverse skills and talents toward co-creating a just and sustainable neighbourhood food system.”

Part of the solution is for BC, who is the only province in Canada without a Poverty Reduction Strategy and Canada, who lacks a comprehensive policy to step up and put in place the strategies and policies around food justice.  According to CCEC Member, Raise the Rates, Canada has a Poverty Policy.  This needs to change.

But, Do Poverty Reduction Strategies work?  Let’s look at Newfoundland and Labrador's Poverty Reduction Strategy which is a government-wide (13 Ministries) approach to promoting self-reliance, opportunity, and access to key supports for persons vulnerable to poverty.  The strategy, introduced in 2006, includes more than 90 initiatives that were created based on an intensive public consultation process.  Their cross Ministerial approach developed strategies to address the linkages between poor health and low income, between low income employment and limited economic development, between poverty and violence and impacts on women’s equality, and the need to support persons with disabilities.  How do they know it is working?  Just one indicator shows that it is working: food insecurity has been reduced by 50%. 

The bottom line is that we should be supporting employees fighting for fair, livable wages.  It’s time that politicians, backed by citizen voices, talk about justice and equity.  It’s time to create real, long lasting solutions to poverty and hunger, policies that bring us together, rather than divide us as citizens.

In BC, we have 17 government ministries that work with vulnerable populations and, often-times, they seem to be working at cross purposes.  We know that the systemic causes of poverty cannot be addressed overnight.  But, we know we need to get started.  Next year, 2017, is a BC Provincial Government election.  Make your vote count.

The Neigbhourhood Food Network and its’ coordinators at the local level are unique and separate in that we respond to community needs with grassroots solutions. But, together, we represent the experiences of thousands of individuals across the city, giving us an important role to play in advocacy and systems change.

Learn more about the Neighbourhood Food Networks and support our work. 

And, sign on to end poverty in Canada:  http://www.dignityforall.ca/   

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Even Warren Buffet is saying, “Tax me!”  So why do we think that people living in Vancouver can survive on $610 per month?   In the most expensive City to live in North America (2013)  singles on welfare get only $610.

It is 10 years since Raise the Rates was established (and joined CCEC), but we would prefer that there was no need for them to exist. If only our politicians would buy-in to a living wage for all residents, and agree that it is not acceptable that BC has had the highest child poverty rate in Canada.   800,000 British Columbians are living in poverty, and that 1 in 8 people are food insecure.  Did you know that the poverty line in BC is around $1,500 a month?

Poverty is a political choice. We can afford to abolish poverty.  We are the only province that doesn’t have a Poverty Reduction Strategy.  Two recent polls showed that 78% of people in BC want a poverty reduction plan and the most important issue is poverty, housing, and homelessness.  More British Columbians are having difficulty dealing with the increasing cost of living, and are compromising on our food choices as our real incomes have stagnated.(BIV Insights West BC Gov’t Report Card, May 2016).  And, we know that hunger is a result of poverty.  Are you surprised that at least half of the new Canadians (Syrian refugees), are using the Food Bank? 

Basic welfare has been frozen at $610 a month since April 2007.  Bill Hopwood, Organizer and Activist with Raise the Rates says, “Nine years ago, you could rent a crummy SRO in the Downtown Eastside for $375 a month, now the average cheapest rent is $517.  Rents for the worst housing has increased $142 in 9 years, but no increase in welfare.  After rent and other necessities, a person on welfare has $93 left each month to pay for food, clothing, hygiene, a phone and transit which means $10 a week for food.  The cost of living index has gone up 15%.”  At the recent Vancouver Food Summit held at Gordon Neighbourhood House, the panel on Poverty: What can food policy do?  unanimously agreed that the Welfare Food Challenge, the annual event for Raise the Rates is impossible.  You simply cannot eat a healthy diet living on welfare.  In 2015, Kathy Romses, Dietician and Challenge Participant commented, “Social isolation was a challenge as meals with family and friends or meetings at the coffee shop were not an option.  Trying to guard limited food doesn’t help build or maintain relationships with friends and family.”

For people with disabilities the government announced the first increase in 9 years on the rate of $906 – up by $77.  That is not even half of what is needed to keep pace with inflation.  BUT, they stole most of it back.  They scrapped the free bus pass and now people have to pay $52 a month for the pass so the increase is only $25 a month.  Compare BC with Alberta’s rate at $1,588 a month.

Poverty is a political choice.The government makes it as difficult as possible to even claim welfare - watch the video -

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while being extra generous to very rich.  Last year the government gave $227 million in tax cuts to the richest people in BC on top of the $billions they have already received in tax handouts. The minimum wage was increased by 20 cents an hour and no increase in welfare.  Bill says, “The government chooses to feed the rich by starving workers and the poor.” 

One of the biggest challenges facing Raise the Rates according to Bill is keeping their activists confident when they see the abject failure of politicians to take seriously raising welfare rates.  Everyone in BC should live above the poverty line – we can afford it, it would make BC a much healthier place and in the medium term save money. Read the report from Policy Alternatives on the Cost of Poverty.  How can politicians support policies that keep people in poverty?  Yet, Bill say, “Can you tell me a politician who is advocating for welfare of $1,500 a month?”

Movements make change and we have to build public support to push politicians to act.  Welfare Rates need to be Raised.  Raise the Rates will continue to campaign.

JUSTICE not CHARITY.  WE need a HAND UP not a HAND OUT.  Isn’t it time we took a stand?  2017 is a Provincial election year.  Get involved.  Make your vote count.  

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