Doug Ford’s recent announcement of a 2021 rent freeze is good news for Ontarians, but it doesn’t solve the problem of a chronic lack of affordable housing for low-income residents.
Chatham-Kent currently has a vacancy rate of around 2%, but officials say an exact number is hard to pinpoint with the COVID-19 pandemic in play.
According to Beth Earley, Chatham-Kent’s housing services program manager, the rise in housing prices has created a “housing blockage” limiting the number of properties for first time buyers and those who want to leave the rental market.
“Those who are lower income who would traditionally move into smaller homes are being priced out, so they stay as renters,” Earley explains.
“If you’re paying more than 30% of your income, it means you have a housing need.”
In turn, she adds, this has driven up the demand for rental units and rental prices have done up significantly as well.
The market rate of a one-bedroom rental unit averages $800 to $1,000 and as you add bedrooms or amenities, add more dollars.
Competition for units is stiff, Earley notes.
Wait times for available rent-geared-to-income are long, ranging from three to five years.
In Dresden, where the municipality owns 40 community housing units, the wait for a single male is three years — elsewhere in Chatham-Kent its about five years.
Chatham-Kent also has 10 units in Bothwell and one rent-supplemented unit in Thamesville.
Municipalities across Southwestern Ontario are all in the same boat, officials say, with few affordable units coming on board and first-time buyers unable to get in the market.
An injection of cash from the provincial and federal governments is needed so new units can be built, Earley says, or so buildings can be repurposed.
However, a program Chatham-Kent has developed to work with local landlords is helping, Earley says. Landlords work hand-in-hand with the municipality and financial incentives are paid to landlords to bring the rent paid to near or market value.
“It’s a really good program,” Earley adds. “Landlords get their guaranteed rent money.”
Plus there is ongoing monitoring and supports for tenants in the program.
Jeff Wilkins who works as a paralegal for Chatham-Kent Legal Clinic — specific to housing stability — says while local availability rates are dire, he’s impressed with the what Chatham-Kent is doing.
Prior to his role in Chatham-Kent, Wilkens worked in housing supports in London-Middlesex and says lack of availability housing is an issue everywhere.
“Supportive housing” is essential as the homeless may have mental health issues or other concerns,” Wilkens explains, and those clients need a hand to ensure they stay on point once they get housing.
Wilkens says his primary work is to help people who have been wrongfully evicted by unethical landlords who break the rules.
However, he says people who many people are so “beaten down,” by the experience of losing their homes they don’t bother fighting back.
The issue of a permanent homeless shelter in Chatham-Kent continues following the closure of a temporary shelter at the John D. Bradley Centre. Currently, the municipality is housing around 75 people at two local motels.
Residents are being monitored and social work supports are also in place for those in need.
To find out if you qualify for housing income supports or to take part in the landlord incentive program, please contact the municipality.
Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Herald