I was invited, along with the other candidates for this municipal election, to address residents at Rupert’s Landing this week. Each candidate was provided a list of ten questions and given three minutes to respond to one of them. I will comment on the other nine in a future post, but for now, I wanted to talk about question two, which I chose to answer:
There is insufficient affordable housing in Collingwood. What are your plans for increasing affordable housing for low-income adults?
Three minutes is a very short time in which to address a complex, challenging issue. I had made a list of ten points but only managed to get into point three or four before my time ran out. Below are some of the notes I made on the issue and my thoughts about housing. This is by no means a comprehensive post on housing and raises more questions that it provides answers; most of these are simply the points I wanted to raise at the event, and some are simply bullets.
I chose this topic because I felt is was the most important one on the list and that it had so far received little attention this election. I served on Collingwood’s Affordable Housing Task Force a few terms back, where I learned a lot about the needs and the politics. Housing should not be just a campaign topic- it should be on council’s radar all the time.
- “Affordable” housing isn’t just an issue about subsidized housing. It’s also about rental unit and rooming house availability, but it’s also an issue that affects development charges, property taxes and home prices. It’s really about housing in general. And it affects every municipality in Ontario.
- The term affordable is imprecise – the word means different things to different people. As the CMHC website notes: In Canada, housing is considered “affordable” if it costs less than 30% of a household’s before-tax income. Many people think the term “affordable housing” refers only to rental housing that is subsidized by the government. In reality, it’s a very broad term that can include housing provided by the private, public and non-profit sectors. It also includes all forms of housing tenure: rental, ownership and co-operative ownership, as well as temporary and permanent housing.
For a couple earning minimum wage working 35 hours a week, their take-home pay will be about $19,500 a year each or $39,000 total. Thirty percent of that is $11,700 or $975 a month. A quick search on Kijiji and other sites showed most local apartments were $1,200-$1,700. That’s between 36% and 52% of their income. And a lot of people working in the regional hospitality and retail industries don’t get the full 35 hours a week.
A mortgage on a house will be much more. On $375,000 it is more than $2,000 a month. And that’s not considering the downpayment required – hard to save for when all your money is spent on just getting by.
- Housing is a regional issue. Too many people who work in Collingwood can’t find a place here – or afford it if they find one – so they have to live in Stayner, Wasaga Beach or even further away. Their transportation costs to and from these communities makes affordability an even bigger challenge. We need to have a regional approach to housing because our neighbours are involved in it, too.
- Simcoe County has jurisdiction over subsidize and social housing. They fund it, build it and manage it. The county has other housing initiatives like support for home ownership, housing retention and rent supplements. The role of the deputy mayor and mayor at county is to advocate for funds and projects in Collingwood and to bring opportunities back to council. Having good regional relationships for a stronger united voice makes it much easier to get support for local initiatives.
- There are some options available that we have not fully explored here, like rent-geared-to-income apartments. These require funding as incentives for developers building the apartments.
- We need to encourage more rental/apartment developments. This is difficult because developers don’t want to manage rental properties and the profits are in single-family homes. Unfortunately, some recent apartment proposals have raised NIMBY opposition. What can we do to encourage homeowners to build in-house flats and apartments?
- Should we encourage the creation rooming houses or even the old-style boarding houses where singles can live without crippling expenses? Is this something we can do through our Official Plan? Through reduced development charges? (Development charges pay for many services, but they also get passed along to the buyers, so they affect affordability, too) Tax incentives? We need a report on our options, but we also need to ask the local housing agencies to participate and tell us what they have learned about local needs.
- Seniors on fixed incomes face the same issues, but often with fewer choices where to go if they can’t afford the rents or the property taxes. Tax hikes hurt those on fixed incomes the most, but tax hikes make all housing less affordable.
- Economic development plays a major role in the discussion. People who work minimum-wage jobs often have to have two or three to simply make ends meet. Having more employment opportunities that offer higher-paying jobs makes it easier for them to afford local housing and other services. The more companies that locate here the larger the consumer base – therefore more commerce for local businesses. That creates more local jobs, too. It’s a cyclic process. We need to allow our economic development office to be more aggressive about pursuing potential companies to locate here.
- We need to create a regional housing task force that explores all of the issues, challenges and opportunities. Collingwood cannot do this alone. And it needs a clear mandate. But first we need to rebuild our town’s relationships with our neighbours because they are in tatters this term.