This appeared in the Guelph Mercury on May 14 2014.
It bears reprinting.
“The biggest obstacle I faced (in getting my kids back) was to find a place that was big enough for all of us to live in that I could afford. How do you tell your kids that they can’t live with you because you can’t afford to give them a place?” Leanne Taylor, Advance Your Voice speaker.
“I was on the housing list (the waiting list for subsidized housing) for three years, I kept thinking something would come up but it didn’t … couch surfing, basement crawling … that’s what I had to do.” Barb McPhee, Advance Your Voice speaker, member of Community Voices.
These are compelling messages from women in Guelph who, like many others in our community, are unable to find an affordable place to live. Safe, accessible, affordable and suitable for our family size are the basic requirements of a home.
The affordable housing situation in Guelph and Wellington County, like in many urban and rural communities, is dire.
The 1.9 per cent vacancy rate in the Guelph census metropolitan area, which includes part of the County of Wellington, means for every 100-rental units, fewer than two are available to rent. This is the second lowest rate in Ontario municipalities.
Those on social assistance, disability benefits or earning minimum wage confront rents that have far outpaced their incomes. Based on calculations done for the recently completed Wellington County Housing and Homelessness Plan, 45 per cent of renter households cannot afford the average market rents and are spending more than 30 per cent of their income, the widely accepted benchmark of affordability, on their housing.
As we gear up for the June 12 Ontario election, we urge the political parties to address this fundamental issue.
Across the political spectrum, the case can be made for why investing in affordable housing makes sense. The research, and there’s lots of it, indicates that affordable housing is far cheaper than an institutional response to homelessness, such as shelters, emergency rooms or jail.
The recently released Housing First/Chez Soi final report calculated for the high-needs homeless population, an investment of $10 in intervention services saved $22.72 in other services, such as shelter costs and emergency room visits.
Also, it makes economic sense to ensure workers of all income levels can find a place to live within a reasonable distance to where they work. Not surprisingly, health is improved if people have a place to call home. Further, investing in affordable housing, whatever your party stripe needs to happen if we’re going to achieve the vibrant, prosperous communities our city leaders speak of.
The ways to invest in affordable housing run the gamut from bricks and mortar and subsidies, to increasing people’s access to the rental market.
Several Guelph and Wellington community organizations are calling for the introduction of an Ontario Housing Benefit. Delivered much like the Ontario Child Tax Benefit, this policy option was proposed in 2008 by the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto and a panel of experts.
Although an Ontario Housing Benefit received some interest from the provincial government, it has never been implemented. This solution, in combination with other housing creation and income policies, could make a real difference in helping close the gap between low-income household income and market rents.
Information on the Ontario Housing Benefit can be found on the Guelph and Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination website, www.gwpoverty.ca.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities identifies the high cost of housing as the most urgent financial issue facing Canadians today. The federations Fixing Canada’s Housing Crunch campaign outlines what’s at stake and what types of investment are needed.
Guelph City Council, the County of Wellington, and the Town of Minto are three of 187 Federation of Canadian Municipalities members that passed a resolution endorsing this campaign.
Leading up to the provincial election, it is critical we raise the need for affordable housing with our candidates. Provincial and federal government investment in affordable housing is integral to growing the economy and ensuring healthy, inclusive communities.
Suzanne Swanton and Gary Roche are co-chairs of the Wellington Guelph Housing Committee. Jane Londerville is its former chair. All are members of the Guelph and Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination.