Dozens meet to push for solutions to housing crisis

Around 100 people joined forces Wednesday to try to come up with local solutions to region's housing crunch.

Jeff Kruper writes down ideas on how to address the lack of housing in Abbotsford during a community meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Jeff Kruper writes down ideas on how to address the lack of housing in Abbotsford during a community meeting Wednesday afternoon.

The apartment was dingy and smelled like an ashtray, but it was in Drew’s price range.

On disability, Drew – like hundreds of others in Abbotsford – had been staying with a girlfriend but badly needed a place to call his home. And sure, the apartment would have cost just $600 a month just a year or two ago, but the current $760 rent was still doable thanks to a subsidy pledged by BC Housing.

And so Drew went to check out the home along with local housing advocate Jesse Wegenast. But they weren’t the only ones eyeing the spot.

In a sign of the housing crunch afflicting the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland, 19 people visited the apartment during a one-hour open house. For all but one of those people, the search for housing will continue.

Drew’s story was one of several told at a special meeting Wegenast organized Wednesday to try and come up with possible remedies for the dire lack of housing in Abbotsford.

Last fall, the Canadian Mortgage Housing Corporation pegged Abbotsford’s rental vacancy rate at just 0.6 per cent and there is little indication the situation has improved in the last 12 months. Indeed, stories have proliferated about advertisements discriminating against renters on social assistance, while others have spoken about moving to Chilliwack where housing is cheaper.

Wegenast, a pastor with 5 and 2 Ministries who leads Abbotsford Communities Services (ACS) homelessness prevention program and administers rental subsidies, said the housing crunch is affecting people of all demographics, from the homeless to those working steady jobs.

And he told a crowd of nearly 100 who packed into an ACS meeting room that the city’s housing crisis has reached a turning point, with a groundswell of public support to address the issue. Attendees included the homeless and members of the public, as well as many from local non-profit organizations. Most city politicians were out of town for the week, with most attending the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) conference in Victoria.

Instead of leveling criticism, positive action is now needed.

“We are no longer calling people out, we are calling people up,” he said. “We’ve got to stop pointing fingers.”

The crowd also heard from a mother of a woman with three teenage daughters who had found herself only able to rent a one-room apartment despite working 50 hours a week at three jobs.

Following several such stories, participants began brainstorming possible solutions, and ways to lessen the scale of the crisis.

Ideas discussed included bylaws promoting the usage of vacant land, working with realtors to ensure tenants are respected and new homes are found for those displaced by development, and creating incentives to rent to those on the margins of society.

Another meeting will be organized in the coming months to review the ideas and spur action, with the hope to draw together people from various sectors.

The meeting came shortly after a provincial pledge to spend $500 million to build more affordable homes, and as the housing crisis was a frequent topic of discussion at the UBCM meetings. There is also a renewed push for the creation of a national housing strategy.