In her bid to stay at Little Mountain, Ingrid Steenhuisen had repeatedly noted her 79-year-old mother, Toni, has lived in social housing there since 1957. She’s been in the same unit since 1964.
So why has her family lived there so long?
Steenhuisen first made the news when she was born as part of a set of triplets in 1957. One sister died after a week. When newspaper readers learned the family suffered the shock of triplets, the loss of a child and were about to be evicted because the city had discovered they occupied an illegal basement suite, help arrived in diapers and information about social housing at Little Mountain.
Her father, who was born in the Dutch West Indies, worked cleaning train cars for Canadian Pacific. Her mother didn’t work outside the home.
The Steenhuisens produced two more kids over the next five years. The family visited the Netherlands for seven months in 1962 and considered moving there. But staying would have meant mandatory military service for Steenhuisen’s father, Dick.
The family moved into Steenhuisen’s three-bedroom townhome in 1964. Steenhuisen’s mother has been in hospital and then residential care since October 2009.
Steenhuisen remembers her parents considering renting to own a home in Coquitlam during the 1969-1970 school year, but it didn’t work out.
Her mother bore her seventh and final child, Tina, in 1971. Her record-setting 11-pound, 10-ounce baby was delivered by caesarean and the stitches ruptured, causing health problems for eight years, according to Steenhuisen.
Steenhuisen and her “twin” moved out of Little Mountain in 1977 to complete a year of military service in Ottawa.
Steenhuisen’s father suffered his first stroke in 1979. Within 15 months, he was struck by two more and could no longer work.
“Mom tried on a couple of different occasions [to work outside the home],” Steenhuisen said. “Doing the work wasn’t the issue, it was everything at home.”
One grandson moved in for a year, Steenhuisen’s youngest sibling returned and another grandson moved in while he attended Vancouver Community College.
Steenhuisen’s father died on his birthday in 1999. Her mother suffered a brain bleed in 2000 and in 2001, a stroke.
In the meantime, Steenhuisen started experiencing health problems in 1989. She joined the waiting list for a one-bedroom at Little Mountain in 1992 and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 1995. When her mother was classified as being “over housed” with too many bedrooms in 2003, Steenhuisen returned to Little Mountain and moved in with her nephew and her mother so her mother could remain in place.
Steenhuisen said two of her siblings spent short stints of their adult lives in social housing. One’s a renter, four are homeowners and one is dead.
B.C. Housing reports the average length of tenure in its directly managed social housing buildings is 5.8 years. The largest proportion of the 2,844 households it reported on, 43 per cent, occupied this form of housing for one to four years. Factors for length of tenancy include household income levels, whether residents occupied housing for families, seniors or people with disabilities, children leaving home, the location of a building and other housing options in that market.
“There’s this old stereotype that the type of people who need affordable housing are on welfare, alcohol, drugs and n’er do wells, etc. I spent a good number of my early adult years working with the military, serving my country, volunteering since the age of 11 serving my community,” said Steenhuisen, who noted she has received a Lower Mainland Good Neighbour Award and a Queen Elizabeth II jubilee medal for her volunteer work.
She saw many single mothers raise their children at Little Mountain and then move into the seniors building there. Steenhuisen said the 2006 Census reported 64 per cent of families at Little Mountain were working families and the other 36 per cent were seniors and people with disabilities.
“Did I ever foresee that I would be in a position where I would be on disability?” she added. “Hell no. Nobody ever does.”