A rash of domestic violence cases has hit the front pages and airwaves recently both in Calgary and internationally. Inextricably linked to local domestic violence is the low vacancy rate in our city – just 1.3%. It’s the lowest since economic boom in 2006. There are also long waitlists both for Calgary Housing subsidies and for second-stage shelters.
Women may stay in violent relationships for differing and complex reasons, like power and control issues; however, one of the primary factors is the absence of places to flee to or the financial ability to break away independently. This problem is now aggravated by Calgary’s low availability of affordable rentals and housing.
Though Discovery House was first established as a traditional second-stage shelter for women and children leaving domestic violence, the size of our waitlists influenced our expansion to include a Community Housing outreach model. Our Housing Liaisons help victims to find living spaces that meet their family’s needs, and give them the same individualized, long-term support and community links that we give to our residential clients.
But with low vacancy rates, landlords can now pick and choose their ideal tenants. There’s been considerable media coverage on the ideal tenant: a professional individual or couple with a stable income, no kids and no pets. Our clients don’t fit this bill. They’re more likely to be from populations vulnerable to domestic violence such as immigrant and Aboriginal women. All our clients have children who are also at risk of lifelong psychological and emotional scars.
Discovery House is working with the Calgary Housing Authority and other Housing agencies to help our clients. Still, we hope landlords evaluate prospective tenants not based on what they’re not, but rather who they have the possibility of being. Having made the decision to leave domestic violence, our clients are often also making other good choices around employment, education, financial management and parenting.
We can’t forget that for every high profile international case, like that of Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp, there are also thousands of Calgary cases. Lacey Jones-McKnight died in an enclosed space at the hands of her boyfriend. We all need to work together to address the problem and create possibilities for these women and children. Calgary landlords have a pivotal role.