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Decent, safe, affordable housing is one of the most important factors that affect our mental health. Poor housing, such as housing that’s too expensive, run-down or over-crowded,  can lead to poor overall health. It can also make recovery from mental health or substance use problems much more difficult.

On this page:

The bigger picture

Housing is about more than a place to sleep. It’s tied our physical well-being, mental well-being and social well-being. Housing is an affordable safe space that protects us. It’s a secure, private space of our own. And it’s a place to gather with members of our communities. Good housing can help rebuild and maintain independence, day-to-day routines, confidence and social networks. Research shows that people living with a mental illness who live where they want to are more likely to have a job, social supports and a higher quality of life than those whose housing doesn’t meet their needs.

Of course, housing is deeply tied to the bigger social picture. Housing is linked to income, which is linked to education and experience, and so on. A positive change in housing can help influence positive changes in other factors that affect our well-being. Housing isn’t just about a house—it’s part of a path to safety, security, connectedness and acceptance.


What does quality housing for people with mental illnesses or substance use problems look like?

Of course, different people have different housing wants and needs. But in general, the following are important parts of quality housing:

Not In My Back Yard

“Opponents’ concerns [about a shelter and housing project] included parking, density, property values and safety, but mostly they objected to the clients.”
—BC Office of Housing and Construction Standards

Not In My Back Yard, or NIMBY, is the attitude that something doesn’t belong in your neighbourhood. People living with mental illnesses or substance use problems are among the least likely to be accepted into a neighbourhood.  This is often based on the myth that people living with a mental illness or substance use problem will harm families, community safety and property values.  These arguments are based on myths, but NIMBY affects housing projects across BC.  People living with mental health and substance use problems live in all neighbourhoods in all communities. But NIMBY is particularly noticeable when a group of people live in a neighbourhood, like people living in a housing project.


What types of housing are available?

In addition to renting or owning a home, there are different housing choices to help people living with a mental illness or substance use problem:


Where can I find more information?

If you or someone you love could benefit from supported housing, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor, mental health practitioner or mental health team. They may refer you to a program that fits your needs. Other places to find information include:

Visions: BC’s Mental Health and Addictions Journal
Different issues of Visions looks at housing and homelessness as it affects people living with a mental illness or substance use problem. You can learn more about the issues around housing and homelessness, read personal stories and find information on project and programs around the province. To read Visions online, visit

Your local health authority
Health authorities in BC offer different housing services, including licensed community care and support programs. To find contact information for your local health authority, visit

Canadian Mental Health Association branches
Many CMHA branches in BC offer supported housing programs. They can also help you find other supported housing programs. For a list of CMHA branches, visit and click on “CMHA Branches.”

Residential Tenancy Office
The Residential Tenancy Office helps renters (also called “tenants”) and landlords understand their rights and responsibilities and helps resolve problems. For more information, visit

Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre
Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre (TRAC) offers information on tenancy agreements, renter’s rights, dispute resolution and other issues. They publish the Tenant Survival Guide, an easy-to-read guide to tenancy in BC. The Tenant Survival Guide is available in English, Spanish and traditional Chinese. They also offer a Tenant Infoline (in English only). For more information and to read the Tenant Survival Guide, visit To speak to someone on the Infoline, call 604-255-0546 (in Greater Vancouver) or 1-800-665-1185 (toll-free in the rest of BC).

YIMBY—Yes in My Backyard!
The YIMBY toolkit from Pivot Legal Society makes the case for supporting housing developments in our neighbourhoods. You’ll find more information about the right to housing, the human rights legislation behind YIMBY, case studies from Lower Mainland communities and organizations, and strategies to make your own neighbourhood more inclusive. For more, visit

BC Housing

BC Housing is a government agency that helps people with a range of housing needs, from shelters to home ownership. They also offer programs like the Rental Assistance Program, which helps low-income families make their rent payments. For more information, visit or call 604-433-1711 (in Greater Vancouver) or 1-866-465-6873 (toll-free).

© 2014

This info sheet was prepared by CMHA BC Division on behalf of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information and HeretoHelp. Funding was provided by BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority. For more resources visit

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