Get the facts on supportive housing

Is a supportive housing project being proposed or built in your neighbourhood?

Many people worry that supportive housing projects will increase neighbourhood crime rates or decrease property values, but research shows that supportive housing does not negatively impact the neighbourhood.

Here is what you should know about supportive housing in your neighbourhood or community.

Measures to avoid negative impacts

Before entering supported housing, prospective tenants are assessed to ensure they are eligible, understand and agree to the expectations for participation and behavior in the housing, and have the necessary skills to live as independently as the particular housing site requires.

Each housing site is overseen directly by contracted service providers, and linked to clinical staff who are available to respond to community concerns or issues.

The contracted service providers are overseen by management staff from Vancouver Coastal Health.

Housing support staff know each tenant well, and work with tenants to address any behaviour that may negatively impact the local neighbourhood. If a tenant is not able to refrain from negative behaviours, the tenant is required to leave the housing setting, and is assisted to find a more appropriate setting wherever possible.

An operational management plan may be implemented to assist a new housing site to integrate successfully into a neighbourhood. This plan would include regular meetings with community members to address and remedy any neighbourhood concerns about the operation of the site.

No evidence of increased crime rates

In 25 years of experience with supported housing in Vancouver, there is no evidence that there has been an increase in crime in areas around these buildings.

There are 16 apartment buildings outside the Downtown Core, ranging in size from 9 to 34 units, located in apartment zoned residential neighbours. A review of the complaints filed with the City’s Licenses and Inspection Department and Vancouver Police Department show few calls have been made by neighbours of supportive housing projects.

In fact, the calls that have been received are often calls about activities near the address but unrelated to the tenants in the supported housing.

This may be due to the presence of housing support staff, who call to report suspicious activity near the supported housing sites.

Measures to protect neighbourhood safety

Supportive housing apartment buildings can be successfully integrated into many neighbourhoods.

Existing buildings have not resulted in high police calls from neighbours. We believe this will continue with the additional proposed buildings.

Ensuring Vancouver neighbourhoods remain safe is important to all Vancouver residents, workers, and business owners. Everyone has a role to play. In the last few years, the police have worked in partnership with public and the media on innovative crime prevention programs and there has been a reduction in property crimes. Reducing property crimes is a priority with the Vancouver Police Department.

Prevention is an important part of keeping neighbourhoods safe, and we are confident that the staffing associated with supportive housing buildings will result in adequate surveillance to ensure safety of the tenants, and to discourage unwanted activity coming into the buildings.

In addition, the police are committed to responding quickly to any reported criminal activity.

No significant effects on property value

A literature review by CARMHA (Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction) at SFU indicates that property values have not declined with supportive housing.

The report looked at 18 different studies and found there was no significant effect on either the sales price of homes in the neighbourhood or on the number of sales.

A 1996 study by the Housing Ministry in BC looked at the impacts of seven social housing projects on neighbouring property values. The study demonstrated that social housing projects have not had a negative impact on the sale prices of nearby homes based on a comparison with a control area.

Treatment for supportive housing residents

Supportive housing buildings are not treatment facilities and people do not generally receive any treatment services on site. Treatment services are provided in the community at doctors' offices, counsellors' offices, community health clinics, and so on.

The housing support workers who work at the building are there to provide basic life skills support and coaching, to help tenants stabilize their lives, reconnect with the community, and enhance their independent living skills.

Staffing levels at supportive housing sites

There are several different models of supported housing, and the staffing levels vary according to the model.

In some cases, staff support is provided on an outreach basis, with housing support workers visiting tenants’ homes on a regular basis. In other models, staff may be located on site, with hours ranging from daytime only, to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Length of stay for residents

The duration that people stay in supportive housing varies depending on their needs and on the model of supportive housing.

In the alcohol- and drug-free addictions supported housing, tenants are expected to stay about 18 months. This provides enough time for them to achieve their personal recovery goals, which may include entering school or the work force, reconnecting with friends, family, and social supports, learning healthy coping strategies, and achieving a significant period of abstinence.

Supported housing for people with mental illnesses tends to be longer term, with no fixed limits on length of tenancy.

There are a few transitional mental health supported housing sites, such as the Fraser Street site (where people may also be in recovery from addictions), but in most mental health supported housing, the tenants become residents of the neighbourhood for many years.

How residents benefit

A number of studies have compared outcomes for people who receive treatment while in alcohol and drug-free supported housing and those who do not.

The studies find that people receiving treatment and living in alcohol- and drug-free settings could have between 2 to 2½ times higher rates of abstinence as those in treatment but not living in abstinent housing.

Similarly, studies have found higher incomes among the group living in an alcohol and drug free environment, increased social relationships, greater housing stability, and fewer housing problems. Research has also shown that individuals in supported housing are three times more likely to complete a treatment program than those who are not in alcohol and drug free housing.

Potential for residents to have lapses in their abstinence

As is the case for any chronic health condition, lapses are to be expected in the recovery process.

The high-risk period for lapses is in the first 60-90 days of recovery, when individuals are in support recovery or treatment setting.

While it is not possible to predict how often or how many people will have lapses once they move into supported housing, the likelihood of lapses will be significantly reduced.

Any person who has lapses they cannot address immediately will be required to leave the alcohol and drug free housing and will be assisted to find accommodation elsewhere.

Long term, substance use recovery rates following discharge

Substance use is a chronic health condition, and like all chronic conditions cannot be “cured” but can be managed.

While there are many studies with different percentages about how many people stay abstinent post treatment, generally we expect that at one-year post treatment completion that about 40-60% will have returned to substance use. The converse of this is that 40-60% will still be abstinent.

Studies do indicate that even those who return to substance use have a lower level of use.