Jan.12, 2007 Home, Sweet, Temporary Home

Home, Sweet, Temporary Home

By Andrea Lavigne
Victoria News
Jan 12 2007

Diane in her home – albeit temporary – with her dining area
and living room behind. The Victoria Human Exchange Society
rents short-term housing to people in need.
Many rooms are rented by women fleeing abusive relationship

Society pleads for new home to alleviate housing waitlists, caused in part by soaring house and rental prices

The coffee’s on and a soft, yellow glow emanates from the kitchen. While it’s raining and cold outside, Dianne’s home is clean, warm and welcoming.

She lives in one of nine houses rented out by the Victoria Human Exchange Society, a non-profit organization that rents safe and affordable housing on a temporary basis to people in need.

The 52-year-old Dianne, who preferred not to use her surname, left her last apartment to flee a friendship that had turned abusive.

“I didn’t know at the time that she was a raving alcoholic. She was threatening me. It was physical abuse,” she says in a quiet voice as she cradles her mug.

The grandmother of nine spent 13 years in an abusive marriage and wasn’t about to relive the experience. But she suffers from a heart condition that makes working unrealistic and her income assistance cheques allocate only $325 a month for rent.

“It’s almost impossible to find an apartment that’s at my level, because I’m on disability. Even a bachelor goes for $400 to $500. I can’t afford that, plus pay for hydro and the phone and survive.”

Without the VHES, Dianne says she’d probably be out on the street.

Dianne was lucky enough to find a temporary spot at her present home, However, the VHES has its own waitlist of eight to 10 women and is desperately looking for another space to house them.

Established 14 years ago, the VHES rents houses from landlords to poverty-stricken occupants. The society acts as the renter or lessee and guarantees rent in full. The society, in turn, recoups rent money from the occupants.

“Our mandate is to provide good, safe, clean, affordable housing so that they can work on the issues that will propel them back into society on a level that they can manage,” said Joan Vezina, the society’s vice-chair.

Currently, only two of the nine houses rented by the society are allocated for women.

Most women come from treatment programs or other temporary shelters, such the Victoria Women’s Transition House or Sandy Merriman House.

However, one difference between a shelter like Sandy Merriman House and the VHES is the former limits stays to 10 days, with a possible extension to a 30-day maximum stay.

“Sometimes we exceed that, but we’re not technically supposed to. But we do what we can with what we’ve got for the people most in need,” said Don McTavish, manager of shelters for the Cool Aid Society.

While Merriman can possibly exceed the 30-day limit by one or two days, the VHES offers housing for a minimum three-month stay, with an option for further extensions.

“The women who are in short-term shelter (like Merriman) who have to leave, really, they’re options are very, very limited,” Vezina explained. “(They revert to) the street again, to supporting themselves to get money any which way that they can, which might be back into drugs or prostitution or whatever.”

Dianne has been living in the “Linda Jim House” for six months, but has been given an indefinite extension until her name rises to the top of applications for permanent subsidized housing – a process that can take up to 17 months.

According to B.C. Housing, there are 3,400 subsidized housing units in Victoria and 150 will be made available in the coming year. Currently, 2,000 households have applications pending for subsidized housing.

David Ganong, chair of the Capital Region Housing Corporation, said he doesn’t expect a sudden influx of long-term, affordable housing to sprout in the region.

“There’s no change to the market dynamics that force a lot of us to look at very limited options for housing, especially on the affordable side,” he said. “Assessments on single-family homes, condos and apartments are way up. It’s not as though there’s a huge supply of cheap land coming on or reduced construction costs. So it’s going to be the pinch that we’re going to continue to feel.”

© Copyright 2007 Victoria News