What’s Your Wisdom on Affordable Housing? – Mill Woods!

CRIHI is hosting a workshop on Affordable Housing in Mill Woods on Saturday, April 29 from 1-4pm.  We have invited local community leagues and neighbours, faith communities, and local service providers.

If you call Mill Woods your home, or your faith community is rooted there, or you have friends and neighbours living in this area, please encourage them to participate.  We have much to learn from each other when we take time to listen and share ideas and perspectives.

The Muslim Community will be providing refreshments for the workshop, and we look forward to tasting their hospitality.  We hope for a strong and diverse turnout of people and voices, so we can generate some good community wisdom together!

HELP SPREAD THE WORD!

Housingworkshop flyer

 

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Creating Community for People in Prison

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…  I was in prison and you came to visit me … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”   – Jesus  (Matthew 25:36, 40)

Reflection
When Jesus identifies himself with the person who is hungry, weak, the prisoner, or the stranger, he challenges his followers to always see another person’s potential, value, and humanity, and to respond in tenacious faith to what God may do in the life of their neighbour.  Yesterday and today, that belief drives Christians to invest themselves in the lives of their neighbours, even in prison.

On Sunday nights from 6:00-7:30,

       A team of women and (even a few men) from Beulah Alliance Church and West Edmonton Christian Assembly go to visit with women in a prison on the west end, here in Edmonton.  About thirty-five women from the prison come out to join them for coffee and snacks, and to experience the Alpha program.  They eat together, pray together, share stories, and learn about the Christian Faith.  One woman attended the program 3 or 4 times without showing any desire to embrace Christianity.  When asked why, she said, ‘Because I feel cared for.’
       That honest statement points to the genuine heart of why those doing this ministry do what they do:  To support these women in their struggle to heal, to confront some of the darkness and pain they carry, and find answers to who they are so that they may succeed.  In these gatherings, caring relationships are formed, some of which are able to carry on after a woman is discharged into the community.
      Marilyn Johnson, one of the leaders in the team has observed that it is very good to have men participate in these visits as well, so that the women have an opportunity to have a healthy relationship with a male presence.
      Because of the success of the program and the trust earned, mentors in the program have earned escort privileges to take some of the women to church on a Sunday morning.  (If a women is from the medium security end, then she would also be escorted by two guards.)  But this means so much to the women, to have the opportunity to get out of prison and be welcomed by a church community.  They have hard deadlines that do not budge, of course.  The women must be back by 10:00 am, sharp!  But the efforts of these churches gives them an experience of belonging, which means a lot.
      Their efforts have been very well-received by both the women, and by their families, who have expressed profound gratitude; even from a father from Manitoba, who was all in tears.

Prison can be a place of restoration

I am glad God brought me into prison.  If I was still out there, I would probably be dead!”
      This statement by a woman visiting the program reinforces an observation made by Marilyn others that many of the stories told by the women had a common theme:  Wrong place!  Wrong time!  Wrong friends!
      For many of the women, prison can offer them an opportunity; a solid interruption to unhealthy choices, circumstances and relationships.  Many of the women are eager to use this opportunity, and having people come into the prison to walk that road with them, is really valuable.

Challenges On the Outside

      Much work goes into helping a women succeed on the outside, but the challenges following release are significant.  Generally the women will find themselves immersed in the same set of circumstances and troubled relationships that fuelled their wrong choices and bad behaviors.  A top indicator for whether a person succeeds or fails on the outside is whether or not they have healthy supportive community.  But finding this can be very hard.
      The organizers of the program really want to support the women once they are on the outside, but there are major challenges.  One simple difficulty is to keep in contact with women once they have left the prison.  Their home communities are all over Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, so many are simply separated by distance.  Many are sent to half-way houses, and may not even know where they are headed a week ahead of time.
       For the women who stay locally, they may have some success for a while and stay in regular contact.  But then they might do something that they are ashamed to admit, and pull back.  As well, the team is forced to keep some distance in relationships, and they struggle with whether to open their homes and give out personal information.  One reason for that caution is that some of the women can be manipulative.  When volunteers begin this work, they take a course on what they are or are not allowed to do; including sharing personal information.  Many of those guidelines continue to apply even on the outside.
       But within those guidelines, there is much that can be done.

What can we do to provide supportive community to people coming out of prison?

1. Run support groups like celebrate recovery that can provide both support and accountability.
2. Get together socially!  Meet for coffee or get food at a restaurant. Go for walks, or get out to have fun together.
3. Provide work opportunities.  There are businesses that are willing to work with people coming out of prison, and do much to provide that supportive community environment.

These activities may take some organizing, but this engagement is very meaningful to anyone trying to pull their life back together after prison.

A Success story:  A woman in her fifties formed a relationship with the group while she was still in prison.  She had killed someone many years ago.  Now she has been out for two years and is doing really well.  She calls up Marilyn and others from the program to get together, and she is so excited when she gets to be with them.

By: Mike Van Boom, based on an interview with Marilyn Johnson    

See Inside: Metis Urban/Capital Housing

Not-for-Profit Social Housing providers like Metis Urban/Capital Housing play a crucial part in the work of providing home and help to populations in extreme poverty.

Description and brief history

Metis Urban Housing Corporation (MUHC) was formed thirty-five years ago to manage a subsidized housing program targeted to aid low-moderate income aboriginal families. Individuals and families were able to afford a home, paying 25% of their rent geared to income (RGI).

Ten years ago, as housing stock aged, and government subsidies began to fall away, a sister company, Metis Capital Housing Corporation (MCHC) was formed in order to renovate, build and manage affordable Units.

Today, between the two sides of the organization, MUHC/MCHC is the largest Aboriginal Housing operation in Canada; owned by the Metis Nation of Alberta. They have 14 locations in Alberta, both Urban and Rural, ranging from Medicine Hat to Grande Prairie.

Here’s what MUHC/MCHC is able to charge for a three-bedroom unit: their most common housing stock:

Metis housing rents

MUHC/MCHC does have a few apartment complexes, but the vast majority (90%) are single dwellings; houses all across the province. Some are bungalows and 4-plexes. Their units are spread throughout the city, which reduces the likelihood of a home becoming a target for negative activity.

As MUHC is not a charity, their operational dollars come in part from the Province of Alberta (80%) and in what they receive from Rent (20%). As they do not receive any dollars for infrastructure, or renovation, they have to squeeze those dollars out while trying to keep rents low. This can be difficult.

Not your average landlord

Many of MUHC/MCHC’s tenants can often face significant barriers and require some kind of supports. Marilyn Gladue, Director of Housing for Edmonton and Rural North says, “We are not funded to do that, but we have to.” She says, “many tenants are from reserves or settlements, so are not familiar with renter responsibilities such as neighbouring, mowing lawns, being good tenants. We can’t take it for granted that people know the basics.” And many come in to large centres like Edmonton to access medical needs or pursue educational opportunities.

MUHC/MCHC works hard with tenants, doing far more than the average landlord; assisting families with budgeting, or repayment plans if they get behind on their rent. They try to be somewhat patient and flexible as they want people to succeed. They also do lots of workshops.

Housing is meant to be short term as people move up the spectrum to greater stability or even home ownership. But that road is longer for some than others, and not everyone is able to move forward in the same way.

Successes and failures:

MUHC/MCHC has seen some very good results with people turning lives around; responding to their efforts to work with them. They have been able to help some move up the ladder from Subsidized housing to affordable, and then even into Home Ownership. They have a great relationship with Habitat for Humanity and have seen many of their families move forward and succeed in their program.

One success story involves a single mom with three kids. Her husband left her, and she was really struggling to provide for her family. She was able to rent with MUHC, and with their support, she fought her way out of debt, managed to feed and clothe her children, and is now back in school. She’s moving forward!

Another family was raising four children. When the husband got a plumbing ticket and a job upgrade the family no longer qualified for subsidized housing. MCHC was able to transfer them to affordable units, and from there they were able to make the leap into home ownership.

But not everyone succeeds. The way can be a steep uphill climb for many. Families can face lots of pressures, including economic, addictions, peer pressure and lifestyle choices. People can’t be forced to make changes, and it all has to be voluntary. Some are not willing or able to accept the helps offered.

Marilyn observes that the Truth and Reconciliation process is important and crucial to help people heal and confront negative pressures, and to move forward with positive choices.

Long Wait Lists

Like other providers of Affordable Housing, MUCH/MCHC has a very long waiting list. They have 1800-2000 famlilies on their wait list at any given time. (that calculates to between 8000 and 10,000 people.)

While they wait, people struggle to get by, paying far more rent than they can afford (up to 60%), doing whatever they have to in order to survive. And there are many problems that come from being under-housed. Affording transportation to your job is hard. Some families are staying in motels.

In today’s housing market, there are some rental spaces available, but not nearly enough that are supportive. As well, landlords will generally choose a person with a stronger income and rent history over someone who is low-income. And unfortunately, not everyone is willing to rent to aboriginal families that are struggling.

Often people with no other choices will sometimes end up in slum landlord situations where properties are not well-maintained by the landlord. This has a very negative impact on the family, including souring relations with local neighbors.

Moving Forward…

Because of the financial realities of contemporary property development, MUHC/MCHC is forced to move beyond single dwellings to building townhouses or small apartments. Currently, they are building four or eight-plex townhouses in order to keep costs affordable and sustainable.

There are some serious concerns on the radar as subsidy agreements are expiring and not being renewed. This has resulted in approximately 40% of units lost nationwide. Today, 160,000 families are being subsidized across Canada. By 2032 (15 years), all these subsidies will disappear.

But MUHC/MCHC sees reason for hope. The Federal Government today is the first in almost forty years to work on a National Housing Strategy. They are looking at different models as the current model is considered unsustainable. Some of the ideas being considered are:

  1. Tying funding to families rather than units.
  2. Recognizing the need to renovate current inventory and add/build new.
  3. Amending some of the National Housing occupancy guidelines so they are able to respond to the need in a more flexible way.

By: Mike Van Boom, based on an interview with MUHC Executive Director, Larry Scarbeau and Director of Housing, Marilyn Gladue.