Thursday, July 11, 2013

Crisis Without a Reason Day

Another week of this is starting to look tempting.
I haven't gotten my driver's license, so I ride the bus quite a lot. Less often, now that the summer weather is here and I am no longer hopelessly addicted to resin-figure wargaming, but still quite a bit. Socially, I'm a rather withdrawn person, so I usually ride with my headphones on, streaming me music from whatever device I feel (I actually have quite a few options for entertaining myself on the bus).

The last week or so, though, I've been going without (usually on two wheels), and this morning I had the pleasure to shuttle around on the bus for a few hours, trying to keep food stocked in my house without a working fridge. And while I wasn't trying to be a creep, it's fun the kind of conversations you overhear.

One of my fellow travellers this morning was a building manager for one of the many "highrise" apartments in my neighbourhood, complaining about how many units she has open. That doesn't surprise me in the least, because I've rented from the company she works for before. Their rents are high (too high for a single person), in a neighbourhood where the average person is underemployed, if they're employed at all, and, to cap it all off, their maintenance guys suck - where the buildings were erected in the 70s and 80s on the cheap, you'd really think you'd need a good maintenance crew.

It's not an isolated phenomenon. Apartments across the city are laying vacant, with landlords - usually just working stiffs caring for the property of a few very wealthy families in the city - at wits end trying to rent the space at the rents their owners demand. In the case of a few landlords, renting out their own basements or converted upper-floors, they're usually lucky if they can just cover their costs. In point of fact, we're at a decadal high in the vacancy figure - we're the worst in Canada among 35 major city centres.

That in itself isn't really a problem. Too much housing is inefficient, sure, but if the properties are paid for in full, your only losses are opportunity cost and upkeep. Where it's a problem, however, is that another figure is also elevated.

More than 900 people are on the waiting list for income-assisted housing. This is a governmental and non-profit initiative to help find people who aren't making enough money working to live independently keep a roof over their head. Sometimes the wait is as long as 15 years.

Now, call me naive, as I probably am, and call me hopelessly liberal (which I think is unfair), but why isn't the government throwing money at this problem, aggressively? What's to stop the government from subsidizing the rent on the 10.4% of apartments sitting vacant in the city to house these 900 individuals? There's enough room there, certainly.

Income assistance falls under the purview of the province. Something the province is doing must be perceived as more important than helping to keep the working class afloat. Is it medicare? Nope, can't be that, that's been getting cuts...

How about a little less emphasis on "business innovation" and a little more problem-solving? Hell, your business innovation strategy was supposed to make us the best-in-country for Research and Development spending.

We're dead last.

Edit: The redoubtable Andrew Pollock (a local urban development expert) informs me that I am only partly correct. The federal government has a cost-sharing agreement for the assisted housing program with the provincial government, so we can add my earlier rant about the foolishness of our military spending in light of the general poverty into this one with some specifics. Locals can find more information on the issue from the Saint John Human Development Council, and people should also check out @fischbob on twitter for more of Andrew.

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