Complaint fast-tracked over lack of affordable housing for developmentally disabled adults in B.C.
Camille Marquis and Amy McMillan are more than ready to start living on their own. They're both approaching middle age and sick of precarious housing — a fact of life for many adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities in B.C.
That's why they were so excited about a new affordable housing development under construction in their hometown of Ladysmith.
When the four-storey "Heart on the Hill" building on Buller Street was originally approved, Marquis, McMillan and many of their friends understood that a dozen apartments would be available for developmentally disabled adults.
"This is what we want. It's a dream for us to have our own chance to be on our own, have our own independence," McMillan, 43, told CBC.
But they recently learned only two units would be prioritized for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, although at least seven people are ready to move into the new apartments.
"I feel homeless. I just really want this for me and my friends," McMillan said.
Marquis, 37, said "it's been a struggle" to adjust to the news.
The housing project, funded through a $3.8-million grant from B.C. Housing's Community Housing Fund, is at the centre of a new human rights complaint filed by the Ladysmith Supported Housing Committee against B.C. Housing and the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction.
The complaint argues that "the combined impact of their policies results in persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities facing economic barriers to affordable housing."
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal confirmed on Monday that the complaint will be fast-tracked, with mediation set for the fall.
'We really feel let down'
Sandra Marquis, Camille's mother and a member of the housing committee, described the problem as urgent. She said many of her fellow parents are aging and just want to know their children will have a place to live after they're gone.
"These are people who are really at risk for being homeless," she said.
The committee is also calling on the Ladysmith Resources Centre Association (LRCA), the local non-profit behind the housing project, to make people with intellectual and developmental disabilities the priority tenants for 12 of the 36 units at a deep subsidy.
Sandra Marquis said parents and self-advocates from her group have been working closely with the LRCA on this project from the beginning, and they had a commitment for those numbers in 2018.
She said she's now been told there's no record of that commitment, and B.C. Housing's funding structure will not allow suites to be allotted that way.
"We really feel let down," Marquis said.
A B.C. Housing spokesperson said the agency is aware of the human rights complaint and is reviewing it with lawyers, but that it is unable to comment further.
The social development ministry said it has not yet been served with the complaint.
CBC has reached out to the LRCA for comment, but they have yet to respond.
'No way' to afford market rent
This isn't just a Ladysmith problem. In a 2020 report, Community Living B.C. estimated that at least 5,000 people with developmental disabilities across the province would need housing over the next five years, and the vast majority can only afford rents of $500 a month or less.
According to Sandra Marquis, adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities face several barriers to housing.
One of the largest is that B.C.'s disability benefits provide just $375 a month as a housing supplement — an amount that has remained unchanged since 2007.
"Even if people, such as my daughter, work part-time … there's just no way they can afford to rent a suite," Marquis said.
They also face discrimination from landlords and can be targets for exploitation, she added.
Both Camille Marquis and Amy McMillan expect to lose their current housing in the coming months. McMillan lives with a roommate, but says their house is run-down and in need of repairs.
Marquis lives in a homeshare, a common arrangement where disabled adults live with a person or family who receives provincial funding. She says she likes it, but she's currently in her sixth home in nine years, and says all the moving around has been hard.
"I had to move back in with my mom and dad for a while. Who wants to live with their mom and dad for the rest of their lives? No thanks," she said.
McMillan said she's praying she'll still have a place in the new development, but she's starting to feel hopeless.
"I just want to live there more than anything. I really want this," she said.