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Lack of data, funding hampers delivery of affordable accessible housing for Calgarians

In Calgary, there are an estimated 46,000 individuals with mobility-related disabilities, and there are only an estimated 1,180 accessible and affordable rental units in Calgary’s stock.

Ultimately, those numbers are just estimates and lack the precision needed to make the best possible decisions for increasing the availability of accessible and affordable housing in the city, said Calgary-based Vecova. The organization has served Calgarians by providing programs and services to persons with disabilities in the city since 1969.

Kelly Holmes-Binns, CEO of Vecova, is calling for an increase in the number of units available but said systemic issues are barriers to giving Calgarians dignified homes to live in.

“It’s really hard to determine the full scope of it because there’s very little information available,” she said.

“When we look at how our population is aging, and in the recent information that was distributed from the City of Calgary through their housing needs assessment, our population is expected to grow to 1.5 million in 2028—and the fastest growing population is female super seniors. So when you think about the growing need for disability services in our community, it’s not decreasing at all.”

The latest data available from Statistics Canada, published in 2022, addresses data collected in 2017.

From that data, however, it showed that at that time, people with disabilities in Canada were on average far more likely to rent than to own their own homes compared to the general population. Despite people with some form of disability making up 21.8 per cent of the Canadian population 15 years of age or older, they make up 39 per cent of the total number of people requiring subsidized housing.

Holmes-Binns said that the organization was able to raise the issue of needing more data with the City of Calgary through that housing needs assessment.

“I think they’ve done a great job trying to assess the overall housing needs in the community. But that is that is a bit of a gap that needs to be considered,” she said.

“When we’re gathering information going forward, the closest information we get within the report is that 56 per cent of the 84,000 households that are in need of housing, experience difficulties or long-term challenges. That’s as close as we get to identifying the gap for people with disabilities. So more information needs to be gathered on that.”

Funding model at provincial and federal levels also has gaps

She said that action needs to be taken to assess and plan for the need to have housing that addresses the continuum of mobility challenges that Calgarians face now and into the future.

“There’s been lots of talk about affordable housing, and that’s a good thing. There should be as there’s a significant lack of affordable housing in the city and and across the country,” Holmes-Binns said.

“But in addition to that, it’s so difficult to work with an individual to find affordable housing if you layer someone who also has accessibility needs on top of that. It becomes extremely difficult for them to find something that meets their needs, their mobility needs, and is affordable. That needs to be top of mind when we’re developing strategies for how to address the housing crisis that we’re experiencing, collectively.”

An example of that difficulty came from former Humboldt Broncos player Ryan Straschnitzki, who has become an ambassador for Vecova.

“I searched extensively for an accessible home. After 18 months of coming up empty, I realized my only choice was to make a home accessible myself,” he said.

“I’ve purchased a home and am renovating it for my accessibility needs, but this is not an affordable or realistic option for everyone who needs accessible housing.”

As part of efforts to address an immediate need for housing now, Vecova is currently trying to raise money towards replacing their existing affordable-accessible housing facility with one that would triple the number of Calgarians they could serve. It would go from five high-needs spaces to 17 that could offer a continuum of accessibility depending on need.

“Some would have very high levels of accessibility needs, meaning they need specialized equipment, lifts, lowered countertops, everything would have to be wheelchair accessible. And then it would also be paired with individuals who have disabilities, but are able to live a little more independently,” said Holmes-Binns.

“One of the challenges we’re experiencing is some of the funding is not allocated for people who have the level of support requirements that our individuals have. There really is no funding vehicle that we can turn to as an alternative. So that really excludes us from being able to access some of the funding streams that are available, and makes it more difficult for us to serve individuals who have disabilities.”

She said that conversations that Vecova has had with the provincial and federal government have been productive, and the issue of addressing affordable housing funding is about addressing that gap in funding programs.

A significant barrier to completing the housing is a result of increased costs to do so. According to the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, a significant portion of the cost to create accessible housing is the extra space needed to allow for full mobility, space that would not otherwise be needed to be built in a setting that isn’t accessible.

Vecova is also working to replace its main facility in the northwest, which was built in the 1960s and is now coming to its end of life.

The organization has been given $17.6 million for that project by the City of Calgary, but is continuing to seek funding from the province and from the federal government.

For more information on Vecova, see vecova.ca.