Housing insecurity has ties to social inequality and related health disparities that are rooted in colonialism and systemic racism.
The right to adequate housing has been established by the United Nations as a human right.
However, housing policies and housing development in Canada are rooted in colonialism. The first settler communities were built by taking land from and displacing Indigenous peoples. Historically and presently, minorities in settler communities have faced eviction and displacement as buildings and entire neighbourhoods have been razed and redeveloped. Examples include Hogan’s Alley in Vancouver and Chinese communities throughout BC.
Discrimination is still present in BC’s housing and renting landscape. While overt discrimination is illegal, forms of “indirect discrimination” still exist. These include recommending and showing homes and apartments to fewer minorities and requiring photo ID before a bid is accepted. Another example is a building having stairs but no ramp or elevator, which automatically excludes those using a wheelchair or scooter.
These forms of discrimination make finding housing more difficult to find (and restrictive) and expensive for minority groups. People experiencing homelessness in Canada include a disproportionate number of individuals from racialized and immigrant communities. Discrimination, language and cultural barriers, historical trauma and systemic racism are all factors that lead to an inability to break the cycle of poverty.
British Columbia has the highest eviction rate in the country at approximately 10 per cent, compared to the provinces and territories that sit around 4 per cent. Inequity plays into who gets evicted, as British Columbians aged 45-54 paying more than 50 per cent of their income on housing are the highest group at risk for eviction, in addition to single parents and Indigenous people.
Those who face eviction have lower self-reported levels of health and mental health, as well as increased financial difficulty. The compounding housing, affordability, mental health, COVID-19, and climate crises have exacerbated unemployment, wage loss and financial hardship for low-income and predominantly minority communities.
We need to shift to a housing market that promotes equity, diversity and inclusion, rather than a housing market that suffers from discrimination and colonialism.