Cross Country Checkup·Q&A

Housing affordability should be a 'priority' this election, says advocate

On Sunday, renter Michael Chapman spoke with Cross Country Checkup host Ian Hanomansing about his experience searching for housing in B.C.'s Souther Gulf Islands, and what he believes governments must do to address housing affordability.

'Without housing, everything else becomes a major issue. Everything'

A new home is built in a housing development in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. Housing affordability has emerged as a key issue ahead of the Sept. 20 federal election. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Michael Chapman knows first hand the difficulty of finding a home in an increasingly expensive market.

The renter was priced out of housing on Bowen Island, B.C. — where he lived for 20 years — back in 2019. He attributes that, in part, to the rise of short-term rentals on the island.

That same year, Chapman was part of a group that set up an encampment on the island, protesting the lack of housing options.

"It's a small island … but the problem it has is real, and they probably need accommodation for about 10 people, I would say would be a good start," he told CBC News at the time, noting that many were living in "substandard" situations.

Chapman now lives with a friend in B.C.'s Southern Gulf Islands and on Sunday, Cross Country Checkup host Ian Hanomansing spoke with him about his experience searching for housing in the region, and what he believes governments must do to address housing affordability.

Michael Chapman is a renter in British Columbia and says that short-term rentals in the region have made it difficult to find affordable housing. (Submitted by Michael Chapman)

Here is part of that conversation.

I don't know how specific you want to be, but tell us what your search for shelter has been like where you are now. 

It was terrible, and there was a group of us on Bowen [Island] that started a tent city and lived in tents for 44 days in the rainy fall in 2019. And because there was no housing at that point — there wasn't even an emergency shelter — there was just nowhere to go.

The big problem is that there is no housing for people who don't have $1,000 a month for rent. It doesn't exist anymore. It's all been changed to short term, or it's been moved into by the family that owns it.

We need some serious government action on all levels of government to deal with this crisis because it's an emergency. We're talking about fundamental homes — the idea that someone has a safe place to go and that they have a key, that they can lock the door.

When people don't have that, they end up in precarious situations which cause them to develop terrible habits — as opposed to the terrible habits causing them to become homeless, which I think the narrative has been incorrectly portrayed as.

WATCH | NDP, Conservative and Liberal leaders share housing plans: 

Major party leaders outline plans to alleviate housing crisis

2 months ago
1:54
The leaders of the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP have all unveiled their plans to make housing more affordable in Canada with the opposition parties criticizing Justin Trudeau for not doing enough over the last six years. 1:54

How did you end up finding a place? 

Fortunately, I have a friend who's a health-care professional, and they saw my predicament and they saw the pandemic coming down. And so in February of 2020, they offered me a spare room in their house — it's the laundry room, so the washer and dryer is my roommate. But I'm grateful for it.

I'm fortunate because I've still got friends and contacts who are living on the hard, on the rough. In vehicles, in tents, on couches.

We [governments] have got to spend the money. If it's $20 billion, so be it. We're spending it on dams and pipelines we don't need, so let's start spending some money on housing people who live in Canada. Because without housing, everything else becomes a major issue. Everything. 

It doesn't make common sense to me why you don't have that as the priority for this election.

Give me a kind of a very concrete, specific example of what you would like to see a federal government or any level of government do for you. 

It has to be all levels of government, and I think it has to be led by the federal government because they have control of the purse strings.

But they have to immediately allocate money for building affordable housing. And in this community, on this island, it could be 25 units that are affordable. It's a smaller island. If it's the larger Gulf Islands with higher populations ... it might have to be 200, 250 units.

But it has to be done because people cannot live in tents and then be criminalized for living in tents because they've got nowhere else to go.


Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Kim Kaschor. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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