Affordable Housing and its Effect on Hunger
Studies have shown that housing prices and food bank activity are strongly correlated, but the effects don’t stop there. The cost of housing is the single biggest reason for homelessness in a study conducted throughout 25 cities in the US — above factors such as unemployment and low-wage jobs. If cities want to curb their own homeless and hunger rates, it might be time to explore this connection even further and see what can be done about it.
A Look at Ontario
Between rising home prices and falling social assistance, more than 499,000 people visited a food back in Ontario in the span of a single year. These rates mark a 3% increase compared to recent years. More than 166,000 of food bank visitors were children, which concerns the directors of the food bank and parents alike. While 3% may not sound like a drastic change, it’s indicative of concerning trends.
In 80% of communities in Ontario, a standard one-bedroom apartment costs more than double that of the average income from social programs like Ontario Works. This is unfortunate because 68% of food bank visitors state social assistance to be their primary source of income. Even in some of the more ‘affordable’ communities, it would be difficult to sufficiently pay for rent, much less purchase a home, among other household expenses with such low levels of income.
There’s a difference between having to use the food bank every once in a while to make ends meet and a household being consistently unable its members due to financial hardships. This type of food insecurity brought on by a lack of affordable housing usually indicates that families are having to make extremely difficult choices. Directors believe that before people even use a food bank once, they may resort to skipping meals first. They may forego healthy foods in exchange for junk foods they are easy to store and certainly provide the recommended daily calorie intake. This type of short-term thinking can force public health rates to plunge while pushing up the cost of healthcare for all.
In the Future
Food banks want to provide not just healthy foods for their visitors, but also housing support as well. But unfortunately, as the numbers rise, the odds of grasping that type of daily food security become more and more difficult to achieve. With rising housing prices, there needs to be some disruption in the current balance to counteract the effects of hunger. Officials, non-profits, and citizens alike should be willing to work together to take advantage of city resources and build more low-cost units for those in need. While there’s certainly more than one cause of homelessness and food bank use, a lack of affordable housing seems to be the primary barrier between security and insecurity.
A lack of affordable housing in an area has a ripple effect that extends far beyond the poor, which means it’s everyone’s responsibility in a sense. Many officials in major cities report they believe homelessness will continue to rise slightly based on current trends. Now is the time to make a move before the problem gets out of control.
Justin Havre is a Calgary native and owner of Justin Havre & Associates. Justin believes the benefits of affordable housing go even further than providing a roof over as many heads as possible, and that research and efforts related to it should consider the interconnected nature of all societal issues.