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Charla Huber: Housing and health are connected

I work in housing, and I often look at this pandemic through a housing lens. Our homes have played a centre-stage role for the past few weeks.
Aerial photo Victoria residential houses
An aerial view of a residential neighbourhood in Victoria.

I work in housing, and I often look at this pandemic through a housing lens. Our homes have played a centre-stage role for the past few weeks.

We have been asked to stay home as much as possible, many of us are working from home and our children are no longer attending school or extra-curricular activities.

With our daily distractions removed temporarily from our lives, we are now at home, and cannot take our homes for granted.

I wanted to chat with Selina Robinson, the minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, about housing and the extra emphasis it plays in our lives right now.

I’ve met Robinson several times at housing and government conferences, and at housing announcements across the province.

During our interactions over the years, Robinson has referenced her career as a family counsellor.

Robinson’s perspective is an important one to listen to: She is able to tie in mental health and housing. There have been significant discussions on how our quarantine experiences are going to affect mental health in our communities.

My biggest struggle during this time is the isolation. I am a people person and usually spend very little time at home.

“We are social beings by nature,” said Robinson.

It was nice to hear Robinson explain how phone calls and texts are not going to fill the void we might be feeling.

“We need to pay attention to our mental health. When we communicate with each other there are social cues we offer to others to inform them of our feelings,” Robinson said. “Even now, while we are talking on the phone, you cannot see my face break into a smile.”

Robinson has taken Dr. Bonnie Henry’s suggestion to heart and often has driveway beers and coffees with her neighbours to connect the old-fashioned way, while keeping a safe distance.

“The term we should be using is ‘physical distancing’ not ‘social distancing,’ ” Robinson said adding: “It’s not going to be like this forever. It might feel like forever, but it won’t always be like this.”

Before the pandemic hit, we were in a housing crisis and the events over the past few weeks have affected many people and businesses.

For people in need of housing, stress, worry and mental health are all going to be heightened.

“We are planning to deliver much more affordable housing,” Robinson said, referencing the provincial government’s $7-billion Building B.C. Plan.

B.C. deemed construction an essential service to continue to stimulate the economy and employment. Robinson said the government is working to get more affordable projects funded so shovels can get in the ground quicker.

“We are pushing staff as quick as we can,” she said.

The development of more affordable housing projects is a huge win for everyone. It ensures more affordable housing is made available to people who need it. It also keeps people in construction and trades employed and allows the teams in affordable housing to continue to grow, keeping people employed and creating new jobs.

“We are very happy to see our government is keeping its foot on the gas to keep the momentum of the sector going,” said Kevin Albers, CEO of M’akola Housing Society. “With housing being such an important component of the provincial economy, the pandemic could have caused a possible disruption in the planning and development of new housing. It’s very welcome and positive news that will enable the continued production of affordable homes for British Columbians.”

Robinson explained that in the next funding call, they are looking to fund projects that offer larger homes such as three bedrooms or more, to help provide housing to larger families.

Moving back to my earlier point of our homes playing a larger role in our lives than usual, Robinson said that families who are currently underhoused, are feeling the pinch even tighter and the government is working to address that.

I work in Indigenous housing, and larger units have always been a priority due to the applicants and tenants we serve.

“All of our larger rental homes that are three to five bedrooms are always in a huge demand,” said Albers. “The government’s push for larger units is going to make a big difference.”

charla@makola.bc.ca

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