Should we privilege social housing near transit stations?
In Seattle, they do. I’m sure it’s not the only place. And yes, of course, it makes sense. But how much is enough, and how much is too much? Well, now, that’s a very different topic.
We have, in Ottawa, approximately 22,500 social housing units. And about 10,000 households on the centralized waiting list. That’s a lot of people needing help. Do we need more units? Or do we need to make changes elsewhere so that people can climb out of that spot they’re in where they need substantial financial assistance?
Upward mobility isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although some nouveau-riche type can make you change your mind on that in a hurry. But here’s the thing: If you’re currently receiving assistance and determined to get back up on your own two feet, you’re going to be looking for a job, or for one that’s better than what you have at the moment, you might take classes as well, take a second or third job, etc., etc.
Having been in similar situations myself (though I have never asked for financial assistance other than student loans it’s conceivable I might have been eligible a few times in my life), I know a thing about the slog towards financial independence. It involves sacrifices and long hours working jobs you don’t particularly care about, often at very inconvenient times of the day and/or night. Maybe one day I’ll tell you the part about working in a store at the mall during the day and at a convenience store overnight. It’s a short story because after about a month of working two forty-hour jobs I kind of collapsed from exhaustion go figure.
Anyway. When you’re in that situation it helps a lot if you have convenient means to get around at times that don’t necessarily match the office-worker schedule. Being near convenient transit Is important. So for that reason I’m in favour of making sure social housing is near transit stations. But… space around transit stations is not unlimited, and other people also need access to this very convenient amenity. For instance, your single-parent family struggling to keep itself financially afloat and not need financial assistance for housing or anything else. That family needs access to transit as well. How about young graduates looking for a first job? College students whose parents aren’t footing the bill? They need small and affordable housing, too, even if they’re not eligible for social housing. And if we want to make sure they don’t get in the habit of driving themselves to work every day, alone in their car like so many suburbanites, well, it behooves us to encourage them to use transit by planning transit stations and residential developments properly.
But then, what about people who have decent enough jobs and want to live in townhouses or semis or single-family houses not too far from where they work and who can’t afford $800,000 homes? Don’t they deserve reasonably good access to transit stations, too?
I trust you see where I’m going with this. When a city plans transit and residential development, yes, the impulse to prioritize social housing is a good and honourable one. But is it fair? That’s a much more complicated question. I have no idea what the answer to that question is, but I do know we’d have a better chance of reaching it if we took the time to discuss and research it properly.