Written by Eric Storey
The Fellowship Program brings together experiential partners, researchers, practitioners, housing providers, policymakers, planners and housing advocates to collaborate over a 6-month term. During this time, Fellows work together to identify and explore innovative affordable housing solutions and to provide the lab direction with regard to community learning activities. These blog posts will describe how each of the Fellows became interested in housing and why they think housing is important.
- How did you come to be involved in the field of housing?
I would like to begin by first acknowledging that I grew up with privilege, and that safe affordable housing has never been an issue in my life that I have had to search out. It has always been a given for me.
For many years I volunteered with a program that provided support, mentorship and guidance to youth growing up in, and ageing out of care. I was struck by the fact that as the youth approached the age where they would be exiting the child welfare system (and government support) one of their biggest concerns was usually around finding affordable sustainable housing. This was especially true for LGBTQ2S+ youth who faced extra challenges in discrimination or bullying in foster placements or in searching for independent living apartments.
Following my retirement in 2007 I became more involved in community projects, and this led me to pursuing a Bachelor of Social Work degree in 2010. I completed my senior practicum with SAGE in 2012, and in this role much of my activity centered around finding housing for seniors with low incomes and/or needing extra living supports in housing. Following graduation, for several years I worked part-time at SAGE, as required, to fill in for staff who were absent for vacation of long-term leave. Again, most of this work was centered around housing.
- Why is housing important?
Each time that I have moved, my search for housing revolved around the desirable features of a community I would like to live in, commute time to work, etc. and I have always had a good variety of choices within the budget range I had set for myself.
Over the years my involvement with youth projects and seniors housing has given me a glimpse into what housing challenges are presented to those without the privileges that I have. I have seen youth who have recently aged out of the child welfare system living in shelters while attending post secondary education. I was astounded by their ingenuity and resilience in adapting to these difficult circumstances, their sense of relief when they were able to find stable housing, and more importantly how this stability allowed them to focus on their goals and improve their quality of life in almost every aspect. The same has been true in seeing seniors move from shelters or unsuitable/unaffordable housing into stable subsidised senior’s housing. Without housing as a given, it is difficult to imagine being able to establish healthy regular routines or to plan for the future.
- In your opinion what is innovative when it comes to affordable housing?
Over the last 10 years, I have been encouraged to see a gradual societal increase in awareness of the importance of affordable culturally sensitive housing. Since 2013 I have been involved with a group of volunteers to promote safe and inclusive housing for LGBTQ2S+ seniors. Each year housing providers have been more receptive to our suggestions to create more inclusive spaces, not only in terms of individual’s sexuality, but also to cultural traditions such as smudging or respect for faith based dietary restrictions.
What I think is innovative is that as a society we are now starting to see a growing movement that understands that affordable inclusive housing, across the age spectrum, should not be viewed as a handout or charity but as a societal responsibility. Further, that this housing should not be considered as “people storage” but should be viable communities.