Edmonton

Edmonton mom hoping federal budget deals with social housing crisis

Living on disability assistance and scraping every penny to get by, Becki Pound has lived in what she describes as some of the most disgusting places in Edmonton. She's hoping this week's federal budget will bring an injection of cash for low income housing.

‘We’ve had to cut a lot of things back to afford a home’

Becki Pound, mother of three, struggles to makes ends meet as all her income goes to rent 0:49

Living on disability assistance and scraping every penny to get by, Becki Pound has lived in what she describes as some of the most disgusting places in Edmonton.

The single mother of three has rented apartments with mould and mice. There was one time she had to get by with a broken toilet for three weeks.

It's all she's been able to afford.

While she's finally happy in the place she's renting today, even that comes with a catch.

The three-bedroom home in McCauley, near Commonwealth Stadium, has the space she needs for her young children. But with the rent at $1,600 a month, Pound's housing costs are taking up almost all of her income.

"Its very stressful," she said. "I've gotten used to clipping coupons and doing everything that I can, but I mean we don't have money left for anything else."

The 36-year-old will watch Tuesday's federal budget closely, hoping to see cash for low-income housing to help families like hers.

"We've been on a waiting list for quite a long time for a little bit of rent subsidy from Capital Region, but the list is miles long." said Pound, adding she's been on the list for about five years.

4,300 families waiting for subsidized housing

That waiting list is at the Capital Region Housing Corporation which provides low income and affordable housing to families.

The list is longer than it has ever been.

"We have 4,500 social housing units that we manage on behalf of different orders of government and we have 4,300 families that would like to be accommodated," said CEO Greg Dewling. "So we have almost as many on our waiting list as we have available units that we manage."

Dewling said that in 2014 there were 1,200 families on the waiting list but tough economic times have created a surge in the number of those in need.

It has been impossible to keep up with the demand with the organization only able to house about 650 families every year.

Dewling has met with Canada's minister of Infrastructure and Communities, Edmonton MP Amarjeet Sohi.

His hope is that the federal government will provide dollars that could go towards buying homes quickly, that could then go to people on the waiting list. .

Dewling said the current economic climate is a good time to buy and there are many multi-family homes currently available. 

"With the economy and vacancy rates high, developers are making considerations to sell those and so we're very interested to invest into that." said Dewling.

He says buying existing homes solves the problem faster than building social housing developments from scratch.

"Typically a new development takes two to three years and this could help us this summer." he said.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said investing in social housing is a priority for Alberta's capital city as well as for other big cities across the country.

Lack of affordable, safe housing 'major barrier'

A collaborative of five social agencies in Edmonton, known as C5, sees the lack of affordable and safe housing as one of the biggest barriers to vulnerable families.

"We've got some people in apartments dealing with bed bugs. We are dealing with families with small children living in very unsafe areas," said Bev Parks, executive director of Norwood Child and Family Resource Centre, which supports about 1,000 families every year. "Some of the units we've seen people living in are horrible."

Bev Parks, executive director of Norwood Child and Family Resource Centre, says some families are putting up with 'horrible' living conditions.

Parks said getting families into safer housing situations takes away so much stress which can then solve many other issues they might be dealing with.

Becki Pound admits the help she's getting from many social agencies in the city are helping her and her kids get by.

She goes to the food bank every month and relies on church donations to clothe her five-year-old twin boys and two-year-old daughter.

In addition to clipping coupons, she also shovels snow in the winter and even collects bottles to get a bit more cash.

She's hoping the Trudeau government remembers struggling families when it hands down the budget Tuesday.

But whether help comes or not, she still feels better off in her current home, even if it's one she can barely afford.

"We have a roof over our head. It's safe here. This is what we need."

gareth.hampshire@cbc.ca

@cbcgareth