The Opportunities of Housing

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The past few weeks have seen policy in the forefront here at the Canadian CED Network – Manitoba (CCEDNet – Manitoba). Members came together for our annual Policy Summit on November 19th to discuss and pass policy resolutions, setting CCEDNet – Manitoba’s policy mandate for 2014.

This member-led democratic process brings together many of the various CED organizations in Manitoba, allowing our members to learn about each other and the ways our work connects to create holistic solutions for sustainable and inclusive communities. It also provides us an opportunity to show the different ways CCEDNet – Manitoba’s policy work has been shaping the socio-political context in Manitoba and all the potential to be tapped through further policy work.

A week before the Policy Summit, the Province of Manitoba presented its Speech from the Throne. While there was more that could have been done, many of the Province’s statements indicated an intention and commitment to work at issues CCEDNet – Manitoba has been advocating for.

One of these issues is affordable housing. CCEDNet – Manitoba members passed a policy resolution “Affordable and Social Housing,” calling on the Province to follow through on its commitments to create social and affordable housing. In the Throne Speech the Province reiterated its commitment to provide 500 new social housing units and 500 new affordable housing units over the next three years. This is a follow-up to their soon-finished commitment to provide 1500 affordable units and 1500 social housing units between 2009 and 2014.

Action for safe and affordable housing is desperately needed in Manitoba. Apartment vacancy rates in Winnipeg are 1.7%, and approximately 50% of Manitoban renters are in core housing need. As the Province declares in its ALL Aboard Annual Report, “access to adequate, suitable and affordable housing is a critical need; it incubates strong communities and enriches lives and families.”

We congratulate the province on these steps taken, but there are more pieces to this puzzle. Providing the necessity of safe and affordable housing for Manitobans also presents an excellent opportunity for the Province to provide people with barriers to employment a means to pull themselves out of poverty.

This policy opportunity is summarized in our members’ policy resolution, “Housing, Green Jobs – A Pathway out of Poverty,” which calls on the Province to make sure that the jobs and training opportunities from creating and maintaining social and affordable housing are targeted at people with barriers to employment.

Residents of social housing often have shared characteristics – including high rates of poverty and unemployment, facing multiple barriers to employment, and requiring comprehensive training and supports to succeed in the work force. Ensuring that these training and job opportunities benefit people with barriers to employment will reduce the growing need for housing assistance and income support.

This type of strategic investment would mean that the money for housing would go a lot further than simply creating roofs above peoples’ heads. It means people escaping poverty while receiving job training for a sustainable career. It means substantial savings to our health care system and our justice system, two institutions unnecessarily burdened by the effects of poverty. It also means stable communities for Manitobans to raise their families.

Existing social enterprises such as BUILD, Manitoba Green Retrofit, and BEEP (Brandon) have successfully trained people with barriers to employment and moved them into sustainable jobs in the trade sectors. The North End Community Renewal Corporation and New Directions have also successfully used contracts with Manitoba Housing to train and employ people from the communities they work with. The capacity to do more exists – all that is required is the political will and the policy.

This is just another example of how applying a CED lens to all government decisions can ensure public policy supports the building of inclusive, sustainable communities and economies.