Reading through an article today in the Calgary Herald title “Taxpayers group finds well-off living in housing for poor” I couldn’t help but find my way over the the City of Calgary website to learn more about the affordable housing concept (see Role of The City in affordable housing) and understand more about the challenges and opportunities that exist. Clearly this is a tricky issue. An investor I do some work for once mentioned “there is no such thing as affordable housing – it is an oxymoron by its very nature.” Interesting.
As an entrepreneur that believes in people generally needing to be productive in order to contribute to society at large and also believing that we have a responsibility to protect and help those who have factors that limit their ability to contribute, I found one sentence in the article to be of significant note. It was described that some occupants who once qualified for the subsidized units may have made life better for themselves through marriage or new jobs that attributed to them earning more money compared to when they moved in. While I think it is easy to pick a part the problems that the headline suggests exists within affordable housing I think it is important to see what is working and it would appear that those who have experienced a lift in the income and financial footing are evidence that there are parts of the program that work. The real question is, how can people who have been elevated to a better position be encouraged to keep going?
In my world each day, I look at financial statements, credit reports and listen to stories about why people and businesses need money. In doing this I have to review this information with my sights set on trying to help direct someone’s efforts (and information) in such a way that they can obtain the money they are seeking. With affordable housing it would seem to me that (amongst many other items) in addition to an annual review process, an occupant should understand that subsidizing their housing cost is meant to be a means to an end. Charging below market rent that then increases to market rent I believe does not provide enough motivation to have someone consider changing their situation. What if the rent charged was in excess of market rent for those individuals (and families) that no longer met the criteria? What if the program provided “next step” exercises for people that need to move on such as searchable property databases or “moving on” education sessions that would be required attendance before leases are renewed? It’s one thing to work against the tide but it often times it can be more productive to work with the tide.
I think we have a responsibility to help where the help provides ownership of responsibility. You can’t live someone’s life for them but you can come along side of them and help direct their steps. Anything other than that is no longer help.