by Raquel Fletcher
I remember the day my family moved to a new house. Although this house had significantly more space than our old one and an extra bedroom, I continued to share a room with my younger sister.
Like any sisters close in age, we fought like cats and dogs and I remember the day when my parents finally said I could have my own room – the room that at the time had been our spare room for guests.
My parents had painted the walls of the spare room that I was to inherit a dark grey that reminded me of depression. They told me that I could repaint my room when I was 12 and I had never looked so forward to a day as that one.
For a 12-year-old, one’s bedroom is about the only thing they have any control over. My room was my hideaway as well as my abstract art project. While the rest of the house was under my parents’ rule, my bedroom was my domain.
A house is more than just shelter, more than just a dwelling to protect its inhabitants from the elements. A person’s home is to them what my bedroom was to me as a child – a place that provides privacy, security, continuity and a space for entertaining. It is sometimes a person’s only sense of control they have over their lives, especially when they work at a job where people constantly tell them what to do.
This is the reason that Dr. Ryan Walker, from the department of Geography and Planning at the University of Saskatchewan puts housing “at the centre of everything.” When the city of Regina is more concerned with building a dome stadium than doing something about our housing crisis, our priorities are definitely out of line.
In Saskatchewan, rents have skyrocketed and the vacancy rate is somewhere around 1.2 percent, which is precarious for renters. A vacancy rate lower than three percent means that some people are going to have to accept an apartment that isn’t suitable for their needs: a place far from their workplaces or too small for their families, a place that keeps them from the elements, but doesn’t provide them with that aforementioned sense of security.
In rural Saskatchewan, the lack of rent property has forced families to buy, burdening them with debt. Unfortunately, the situation doesn’t seem to be adequately addressed by governments at any level.
Dr. Walker says housing needs to be seen as a matter of provincial concern and progressive housing policy needs to be what drives other social policy.
If housing can really be linked to “everything else,” than our social and environmental policy needs to start here. According to Dr. Walker, inadequate housing has a huge impact on a person’s health and education. Inadequate housing contributes to low self-esteem, powerlessness and poor mental and physical health.
Housing also plays a part in environmentally sustainable communities and should be the focus for urban (and rural) planning. Dr. Walker says that urban sprawl needs to be curbed in order to have quality urban neighbourhoods, where people can walk or take the bus where they need to go instead of their cars.
He says, “High-quality public transit requires 12 units per acre. There isn’t a neighbourhood in Saskatoon that hits nine units per acre. So we’re not there yet.”
These initiatives need to be implemented not just in cities, but in rural areas as well to ensure quality rural living.