Pivot Legal Society - Equality Lifts Everyone


Funding so nice, they announced it twice

Earlier this week, there was a big hullaballoo across the street from the Pivot office as provincial housing minister Rich Coleman and Port Moody MP James Moore gathered to officially open Sorella, a 108-unit supportive housing building for women. The men also took the opportunity to plug a $180 million affordable housing agreement between the federal and provincial governments. This is how the press release from the province started:

A $180-million funding agreement between the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia will help create more affordable housing options for B.C. residents and continue to reduce the number of households in housing need.

Under the agreement, both orders of Government will provide matching contributions of $90 million each over the next three years to fund programs that support a range of housing needs for low-income individuals, families and seniors. 

What one might think, here, is that $180 million new dollars is being put toward solving the dearth of affordable housing plaguing the nation. That's certainly how it seemed to whoever wrote the top of the story that ran on the Vancouver Sun's website following that release:

The federal and provincal governments have announced a $180-million funding agreement to help create more affordable housing for B.C. residents.

Each level of government will provide matching contributions of $90 million each over the next three years.

It's a good news story, right? Housing is a right, and one that too many people are not able to enjoy because of a lack of housing options they are able to afford. That kind of cash infusion could create a lot more spaces like Sorella for people who are currently underhoused.

The problem is that it's not really a news story at all. On my first day at journalism school (literally) the professor chalked the words "Significant, Interesting and New" on the board and told us that a news story has to have all these elements to qualify as news. Of the three, this housing announcement has nothing new to offer -- something that becomes immediately obvious upon reading the Sun's second rendering of the story:

The federal and provincial governments announced plans Monday to carry through with previous commitments to support affordable housing in B.C.

Or, in other words, "Governments continue to do thing they already said they'd do." 

I was a reporter for five years before jumping ship. I don't know exactly how this story went behind the scenes, but I have a pretty good guess. The government put out that press release, which went to an overworked assignment editor. That assignment editor scanned the release, saw the $180 million figure, thought "That's a lot of money!" and assigned an intern or a younger reporter to rewrite the release as a web hit, which is how the first version of the Sun's story got published. To follow up, they assigned a reporter to the story and that reporter headed to the press conference. At some point in the day, that reporter figured out that there was actually no new money - but, by that time, there was a news hole to fill and this story was slotted for it. Moreover, time had been spent going to the press conference, so why not write something, anyway. To the reporter's credit, that's about as good as a lede as there can be on a story about federal funding that was actually announced in 2008. 

Honestly, there's no problem here with the dollars or when they were announced. Housing funding is always welcome and we'd love to see more of it. The issue here is that allowing the government to get double or triple credit for a one-time cash infusion into housing has the insidious effect of making people believe that more is being done to solve the housing crisis than actually is. It dampens the arguments of passionate housing advocates calling for change when people can think to themselves "Well, the government is doing something about the housing crisis, I just read about that last week."

Real action is making housing a Constitutional right. It's ending all homelessness, not just street homelessness. It's implementing a national housing strategy and sticking to it. It is all those things, but it is certainly not recycling a three-year old promise just to get some undeserved credit.