By Ted Bruce
ACORN Canada is a civil society organization dedicated to eliminating poverty and promoting social and economic justice. The group currently has a project underway to advocate for stronger building maintenance bylaws for people living in rental accommodation in BC so that landlords are required to ensure the basic rights of tenants to a healthy and safe environment. PHABC is assisting ACORN to collect information about the maintenance issues experienced by groups of tenants in Burnaby, New Westminster and Surrey and about the impact of living conditions on the residents. Sadly, the conditions reported on some of the rental accommodation is appalling and the response of some landlords appears to be not just inadequate but punitive to those who complain.
Mould, infestations, structural issues and even a lack of heat are just a few of the problems experienced by tenants. And one common problem identified is the uselessness of trying to take concerns to the Residential Tenancy Branch for help. This latter problem has been recently analyzed in a report by the Community Legal Assistance Society entitled On Shaky Ground that demonstrates why so many tenants I talked to expressed a terrible sense of powerless and almost hopelessness due to the conditions of their homes and their inability to get support to resolve issues. The dominant ethic of “smaller government” can lead to a situation where governments seem to be unable or unwilling to actively fulfil their role to protect the health and safety of citizens. Hopefully the work of ACORN will shed more light on this problem. Housing is not only a fundamental right but also a powerful determinant of health. And let us remember that one of the drivers of health is the chronic stress associated with a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness – a condition that seems more common than we may think for those living in market rental housing.
When PHABC finalizes its work with ACORN, it may be a time for a discussion about the role of public health in working to ensure basic environmental conditions affecting health in residential settings.
– Ted Bruce is the past-President of the PHABC