The issue of affordable housing has risen its head yet again, with the dilapidated state of Sun Country Village’s trailers again coming to the attention of the St. Paul Journal.
The Journal first began reporting about the state of the trailer court when Richard Benson, a father of three on Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), approached County of St. Paul council in October. County had advised him that it would have to destroy his trailer if necessary repairs weren’t done to the property. Benson explained he had been repairing the trailer, and asked if his home was crushed, where would he go? However, more voices have since come forward complaining about the state of the units they rent at the same location.
The County of St. Paul says it has to enforce legislation ensuring that housing meets minimum requirements under the Public Health Act. There are several buildings within the County and Town of St. Paul that are probably not fit for habitation, but it is these particular trailers that have obviously come to the attention of community health services, which has decided that the trailers do not meet these minimum requirements.
It makes sense to ensure people are not living in sub-par housing with insufficient heat or structural inadequacies, but Benson’s question still resonates, “If you crush my home . . . where will I go?”
People renting trailers are trying their hardest to put a roof over their families’ heads, with limited funds. According to Service Alberta, under which department the Landlord and Tenants Act falls, their only recourse, if their homes do not meet minimum public health guidelines, is to take their landlord to court.
If you take an individual whose monthly stipend is $1,500 or less, who has mental or physical disabilities, and/or who is trying to raise and feed a family on a limited income, can you really be expected to pursue legal action as well?
The guidelines set, regulated and enforced by Service Alberta, public health, and the municipality (in this case, the County of St. Paul) may result in the destruction of a home, but none of these entities can or will help people find an alternate place to live. The unfortunate souls caught in the middle can only try to get help through community agencies or groups such as the Red Cross – and the demands are high. For instance, Tim Bear, executive director for St. Paul Abilities Network, estimates that SPAN gets at least 25 to 30 calls a month from people, some with children, looking for help with housing.
In other centres, Habitat for Humanity helps to fill the gap, by giving people a ‘hand up, not a hand out.’ People who are in need of housing put in the ‘sweat equity’ to build their own home with the help of volunteers and then repay a no-interest mortgage. While Habitat for Humanity may not operate in this area, a similar concept may work here. At one time, an affordable housing committee operated in St. Paul – maybe it’s time for such a group to be reintroduced, since clearly, the need is still there. The more minds and hands that work to reduce that need, the better it will be for the community and for those who need a hand up, not a hand-out.