National Housing Day draws attention to local initiatives

Nov.22, 2012 — The StarPhoenix

Shirley Isbister has practiced what she preaches.

President of the Central Urban Metis Federation (CUMFI), Isbister works to create affordable housing for low-income Aboriginal families through supported living homes. Having already completed two major affordable rental projects in the last decade, CUMFI is working towards meeting the housing needs of middle-to low-income families in Saskatoon.

Having once lived in the conditions that many of the people she works with face today, Isbister knows the importance of CUMFI’s contribution to the community.

“The majority of the people on our board of directors have faced poverty – lots of us, extreme poverty – so we always knew that we needed to do something about housing,” she says.

CUMFI’s everyday work is focused in the core of the city, but today, it is being recognized on a national scale as a part of National Housing Day. Celebrating organizations and individuals across Canada who are doing their part to provide affordable housing solutions, National Housing Day brings people together in cities around the country to talk about housing issues.

In Saskatoon, Isbister is the keynote speaker at a local event – providing a fi tting message geared towards this year’s theme of Building Solutions for Affordable Rental Housing.

“The significance [of National Housing Day] to me is for people to get an understanding of what it means to live in poverty, and what it means to have a roof over their head, because without that, you can’t think about education or employment or anything else,” says Isbister.CUMFI Housing004.JPG

“I myself grew up in extreme poverty. So I will be talking about the issues that I faced then. But also about what CUMFI means to the community and how far we have moved forward and how far we have come. I want to tell the story of how CUMFI grew and all the other positive things have happened – from the original housing units, to education, to employment.”

The annual event is put on by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the City of Saskatoon and Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership.

“Every year, we host a breakfast and invite housing providers and those working on improving housing in Saskatoon,basically to thank them for their work. Without them, people wouldn’t have safe places to live,” says Shaun Dyck, executive director of the Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP).

“At the event, we have presenters from the city, the province and the federal government to give an overview of the housing market in the province and offer a knowledge transfer. A keynote speaker follows to talk about the annual theme that we have – the theme changes every year and it focuses around the challenges that our city is facing in regards to housing.”

The 2012 theme, Building Solutions for Affordable Rental Housing, is something Dyck says is worth drawing attention to, especially in Saskatoon’s housing market.

“We’ve seen quite a major increase in rent over the last few years. Since 2006, rents have increased by 59 per cent but pre-tax incomes have only increased, on average, by about 26 per cent. So that’s quite an issue. Plus, at the same time, there has been signifi cant condo conversion happening, where we lost around 3,500 units to what they call ‘the rental universe’ in Saskatoon,” he says.

“So you have population increase, supply decreasing, incomes not rising as fast and rental prices pushing people into situations where you see you see homelessness increase and you see families having to show up to shelters. So with that being said, we thought this was the time to bring this issue to the forefront.”

“While there has been a lot of increase in affordable home ownership in Saskatoon, and there are some good local programs out there for rental units, more needs to be done.”

As one of those successful local programs, CUMFI is facilitating positive change in the core of Saskatoon.

“We not only offer the affordable housing and the supported living homes, but we have all the other services that go with it. And that’s the key to having people make changes for themselves,” says Isbister. “Everyone that lives in our affordable housing suites has access to CUMFI supports. And [all of our buildings] are drug and alcohol free. They all have cameras to provide a safer environment”

Proving the signifi cance of a safe, affordable home, CUMFI housing units in the inner-city neighborhood of Pleasant Hill have seen major successes, experiencing both an increase in resident education and a decrease in neighborhood crime.

“In one of our supported living homes last year, 78 per cent of our moms were in education programs. And when we bought the buildings on Ave. U S. and Ave. T S., the Chief of police and the mayor announced there was a 68 per cent drop in crime rate in that area,” says Isbister.

National Housing Day was born on November 22, 1998 in response to nationwide homelessness and a lack of affordable housing in cities around the country.

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