Secondary Suites And The Right To Affordable Housing

In December 2007, at the height of Calgary’s housing crunch, a report emerged from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation that confirmed what many had long suspected: the cost of renting a two bedroom apartment in Calgary eclipsed that of all major Canadian cities, marking the first time since the CMHC started tracking the data that Calgary tenants paid more than their counterparts in Toronto and Vancouver.

What’s more, the cost of that two bedroom apartment had grown by 83% over the span of a decade, from the $595 paid on average in 1996, to the $1,089 required to rent an equivalent unit in 2007.

A poll conducted in 2008 found that due to this dramatic cost increase (combined with a critically low vacancy rate), half of those sleeping on Calgary streets were employed, including 200 working families – 190 of which included one or more children.

Even those fortunate enough to have secured affordable accommodations before the vacancy rate plummeted to 0.5% were’t immune.

Some Calgarians found themselves among the 2500 tenants unilaterally evicted as landlords raced to convert entire rental complexes into more profitable condominiums, while others faced seemingly obscure rent increases, leaving them little option but to pay hundreds of dollars extra per month in order to stave off eviction.

Such was the experience of Marni Armstrong, whose landlord hiked her rent by 150%, from $600 to $1500 per month in an effort to force her and others from their units so to hasten the process of condo conversion.

Despite widespread calls for the Province to implement rent controls, a measure overwhelmingly supported by homeowners (78%) and renters (92%) in both Calgary and Edmonton, the Stelmach government flatly rejected the idea, even refusing to consider it as a temporary measure.

Because of the Tories’ reluctance to intervene, hundreds, if not thousands, of Calgarians were effectively priced out of the market during the housing crisis, forced onto the streets despite having steady, if not multiple, sources of income.

Skip ahead to 2011, and evidently, little has changed.

According to the most recent data from the CMHC, the average cost of renting a two bedroom apartment in Calgary sits at $1,069 per month, virtually identical to the 2007 market. A 2011 report released by The City of Calgary Community and Neighbourhood Services Social Research Unit outlines the continual need for affordable housing alternativesin the city.

On affordable housing and homelessness, the report states “homelessness is not only a housing problem, but it is always a housing problem.”

“In order to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Calgary in the Private Rental Market without overspending on shelter, a person would need to earn a minimum wage of $20.62 per hour, which is an hourly shortfall of $11.82 over the current Alberta Minimum Wage of $8.80. Stated another way, 2.3 people would need to work full- time for a full-year at the current Alberta Minimum Wage of $8.80 to affordably rent a two-bedroom apartment in Calgary.”

It estimates nearly 40,000 renters in Calgary who “simply cannot afford to pay average market rent [leaving] them at considerable risk of becoming homeless.”

Though Calgary’s city council cannot change decisions made at the provincial level (rent control, minimum wage), they posses the ability to expand the market of safe, affordable housing for both renters, and home owners, simply by making secondary suites legal throughout the city.

The measure currently being considered by city council, and endorsed by influential organizations including the CMHC, Calgary Chamber of Commerce (CCOC), Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB), Canadian Home Builders’ Association – Calgary Region (CHBA), Commercial Real Estate Development Association (NAIOP), Urban Development Institute (UDI), Fraser Institute, Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF), and the YWCA of Calgary, would be beneficial to all Calgarians, irrespective of age, race, gender, or income.

As noted by the CMHC, legalizing secondary suites is “a relatively inexpensive, low impact way to provide safe, affordable housing to Calgarians [which] affords the opportunity for renters to live in locations … close to their places of work, educational institutions or important services.”

Calgary home owners, both current and prospective, would also benefit from the legalization of secondary suites because rental income from legal suites can assist in paying down, or count toward qualifying for, a home mortgage. In essence, secondary suites make housing more affordable for all Calgarians, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Much of the opposition toward the broad legalization of secondary suites arises from the disconnect between the reality and perception of what constitutes a livable income, as well as attitudes toward those on the lowest end of the bracket.

A Salvation Army report examining Canadians’ attitudes toward poverty found over half of those surveyed believe a family of four “can get by on $30,000 a year or less, including 21 per cent who think $20,000 is enough.” According to Statistics Canada, a Canadian family of four earns, on average, $84.800 annually – more than double what is believed to be the absolute minimum.

On those living in poverty:

- 49 per cent believe if the unemployed really want to work, they’d find a job

- 43 per cent believe all you need to escape poverty is “a good work ethic”

- 41 per cent believe those in poverty “take advantage” of assistance programs

- 28 per cent believe those in poverty have lower moral values

- 23 per cent believe people live in poverty because they’re lazy

The fact is, people who live at or below the poverty line include  students, seniors, and those with struggling with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. They include single parents, working families, and immigrants new to the Country. Many living in poverty aren’t unemployed, but underemployed – possessing an extensive range of skills and training, but only able to find work in low paying positions.

For these people, having access to safe, affordable accommodations is often the vital first step toward escaping life on the brink.

Affordable housing should never be considered a privilege, but a basic human right.

Calgary prides itself on being a world class city, welcome to all who wish to enjoy the vast array of culture, diversity, and opportunity the city provides.

How attainable this ideal will be for future generations will depend entirely on the ability to afford the opportunity to call Calgary home, and the looming decision on secondary suites could prove to be the deciding factor.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca

Calgary City Council will decide the fate of secondary suites THIS COMING MONDAY, March 7. It’s time to  Take Action, Calgary!

Contact Mayor Nenshi and/or your local Alderman and tell him/her to support the legalization of secondary suites – ALL contact information can be found HERE

Together we can keep the city moving forward, beyond outdated policies, and toward a Better Calgary.

Facts Matter In The Debate Over Water Fluoridation

It’s known as one of the top ten public health achievements of the 20th century; a “classic example of clinical observation leading to epidemiological investigation and community-based public health intervention;” Remaining “the most equitable and cost-effective method of delivering [health benefits] to all members of most communities, regardless of age, educational attainment, or income level.”

It’s a service that has benefitted Calgarians for two decades, backed by peer reviewed research and conclusive scientific data demonstrating the undeniable role it plays in the field of preventive medicine.

Raise a glass to Community Water Fluoridation (CWF), that is, while you still can. Because Monday, City Council will vote on Ald. Druh Farrell’s regressive motion to scrap Calgary’s water fluoridation program.

Armed with unsubstantiated claims and assertions gleaned from sources such as the discredited Fluoride Action Network, (or perhaps from the uninformed, and poorly researched, editorial in the Calgary Herald), Farrell and other luddites on city council are on the verge of rescinding an effective program based entirely on conspiracy theories and misinformation.

Claim: It’s not cost effective / other sources of fluoride do a better job at protecting teeth.

Fact: Despite the increase exposure to other sources of fluoride, “particularly from fluoride-containing dentifrices,” water fluoridation “continues to be the most far-reaching preventive [dental health] measure, [offering] an unmatched return on investment – saving $38 in dental treatment costs for every dollar spent.”

The U.S. Surgeon general reports that savings provided by CWF are “a rare characteristic for community-based disease prevention strategies. The mean annual per capita cost of fluoridation systems serving populations greater than 50,000 is [a mere]$0.68.”

Claim: The overall downward trend in cavity rates is due factors such as better oral hygiene, not water fluoridation / It doesn’t benefit adults.

Fact: Children living in communities with water fluoridation experience an 18% cavity reduction compared to those in communities without access to fluoridated water. Adolescents and adults in communities with fluoridated water experience an average of 25.6% and 20-40% respectively, than their counterparts living in communities without access to fluoridated water.

The U.S. Surgeon General reports “other evidence of the benefits of fluoridation comes from studies of populations where fluoridation has ceased … In Wick, Scotland, which began water fluoridation in 1969 but stopped it in 1979, the [cavity] prevalence in 5- to 6-year-olds … increased by 27 percent between 1979 and 1984. This was despite a national decline in [cavities] and increased availability of fluoride-containing [dental products].”

Claim: Studies show the risks of fluoridation outweigh the benefits / there is growing credible research demonstrating the dangers of ingesting fluoride.

Fact: Research into the effects of fluoridated drinking water “predates the first community field trials. Since 1950, opponents of water fluoridation have claimed it increased the risk for cancer, Down syndrome, heart disease, osteoporosis and bone fracture, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, low intelligence, Alzheimer disease, allergic reactions, and other health conditions. The safety and effectiveness of water fluoridation [is regularly] re-evaluated, and no credible evidence supports an association between fluoridation and any of these conditions.”

Specifically, from a study done by Dr. David Locker, Community Dental Health Services Research Unit – Faculty of Dentistry, University of Toronto:

Regarding acute toxicity: “Fluoride is a poison in large doses but toxic levels cannot be achieved by drinking fluoridated water.”

Regarding bone health (osteoporosis; weak, brittle bones): “…the studies conducted to date do not provide systemic and compelling evidence of an adverse effect on bone.”

Regarding cancer: “… there is no reason to believe that exposure to fluoridated water increases rates of cancer either of bone or other body tissues.”

Regarding immune function: “…a review paper examined studies of fluoride and immune response … and found no support for the suggestion that fluoride affects immunity.”

Regarding mental development: “Recent studies emanating from China have claimed that children exposed to high levels of fluoride have lower IQ’s than children exposed to low levels. The two studies claiming such an effect are deeply flawed and provide no credible evidence that fluoride obtained from water or industrial pollution affects the intellectual development of children.”

The merits of water fluoridation are unmatched, and undeniable. Endorsed by Medical and Dental Associations worldwide, CWF is considered an investment in the future health and overall wellbeing of a given population.

Perhaps the most important, and overlooked, aspect of CWF is the extent to which it benefits the underprivileged members of society. As outlined in a 2009 report from the European Archives of Pediatric Dentistry, “water fluoridation is unmatched in its ability to reach all sectors of society, including those who are least likely to avail of other sources of fluoride or to access regular dental care … water fluoridation seems to reduce inequalities in children’s dental health across social classes in 5 and 12 year olds. Further research in this area has shown that water fluoridation benefits all social strata, and supports the finding that it may reduce inequalities in oral health, which is seen as one of fluoridation’s greatest strengths.”

This counteracts recent claims from Tea Party/Libertarians that CWF somehow deprives them of their choice to consume un-fluoridated water; that it violates their ‘personal freedoms‘.

Unlike the disadvantaged who have neither the money for, nor the access to, expensive dental procedures, those demanding ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’ are the very one who have the opportunity to exercise it.

If Calgarians are unsatisfied by the water provided by the city, they can opt to invest in a water filtration system, or chose to consume bottled water. It really is that simple.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi, a fellow fan of scientific research and hard evidence, has expressed his desire for input from the scientific community, medical experts, and the general public, regarding the future of Calgary’s water fluoridation program.

It’s my hope that the medical, dental, and scientific communities heed the Mayor’s call for expert, and informed, opinion. Whether City Council votes to end Calgary’s fluoridation program or not, it’s important that votes are based on accurate information and conclusive evidence.

Three months ago, Calgarians opted for progress and advancement when they elected Nenshi as mayor; let’s hope the 14 Aldermen chosen to represent the will of the people will continue to do just that, and keep the much beneficial water fluoridation program.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca