Bruce County council: Housing crisis not just a problem for economically challenged

·4 min read

BRUCE COUNTY – The impact of the housing crisis in Bruce County goes far beyond the economically challenged, according to Stuart Reid, executive director, Community Foundation Grey Bruce. It affects every level of society, including those traditionally considered middle-class.

Reid and Christine MacGregor, community outreach, presented CFGB’s Vital Focus on Housing report to Bruce County council at the Sept. 1 meeting.

This is the third Vital Focus report in the series. It was aimed at learning about the impact of housing in Grey-Bruce – affordability and availability, equity, living standards and well-being. Vital Signs is Canada’s most extensive community-driven data program, spearheaded by Community Foundations of Canada and led by community foundations across the country and around the world.

Reid opened with a statement about “what we learned.” Not surprisingly, Grey-Bruce is, indeed, a “desired location” by immigrants from the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), and that’s forcing housing prices up. He added that this isn’t just “a problem for the economically challenged, it affects everyone” – including people who are traditionally considered middle-class, and affluent seniors looking to downsize and move to more appropriate housing.

As stated in the report, “If people spend too much on housing, their financial health is compromised and, perhaps, access to other essentials like healthy food is diminished. Access to housing is a basic right ... we have been impacted tremendously by demographic shifts and the volatile housing market.

Although everyone is affected by rising housing prices, the most vulnerable are the most impacted. The report stated that in Grey-Bruce, “rising rents and growing income disparity are squeezing some people out of the housing market. The demand for affordable housing has created wait-lists that are years long. Selling and moving are not an option when housing stock does not meet the demand.”

Between 2019 and 2020, the wait-list for subsidized housing in Grey-Bruce was 1,679.

Reid noted the Realtors Association Grey Bruce Owen Sound reported in 2021, the annual average price of a home was $650,944, an increase of 35 per cent from 2020.

According to the report, developers are still building and selling single family homes. “Zoning rules and bylaws are often barriers to creative, low-income housing solutions like trailers or tiny homes … short-term rentals are seen as profitable investments and they deplete the stock of long-term rentals.”

Rising rents mean saving for a down-payment on a house is almost impossible. Even paying the rent is increasingly difficult. Reid pointed out the reality, that according to United Way of Grey Bruce in March 2022, paying $1,500 per month rent required an annual household income of $60,000 or $32.96 per hour, based on a 35-hour work week.

Adding to the problem is the fact that access to housing in rural areas is often tied in with vehicle ownership.

The increase in rents and lack of available housing affects well-being. People hesitate to speak up about concerns involving living standards for fear of being evicted, leading to homelessness. Most affected are women under age 35 living on their own.

Reid went on to say that “partnerships are key to finding solutions; governments, developers, social services and charities need to work together towards solutions… There is a lot of inspiration and hope in our report.”

Christine MacDonald, director of human services for Bruce County, is quoted in the report as saying, “We all have a role in this, in building a healthy, safe community, and that will make a difference in helping us solve housing issues.”

During the question-and-answer session that followed the presentation, Warden Janice Jackson, South Bruce Peninsula asked about examples of how Community Foundation Grey Bruce has assisted in increasing available housing.

Reid discussed the SPARK Housing Initiative of The Meeting Place Tobermory, regarding long-term rentals. The investigation was made possible through a community grant.

The report also made mention of Southgate’s affordable attainable housing committee, and Saugeen Shores’ attainable housing task force. Habitat for Humanity has formed a partnership with the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation for affordable housing in Neyaashiinigmiing.

Glassworks Co-operative in Owen Sound was lauded as a “new vision for innovative housing.”

County Coun. Chris Peabody, Brockton, spoke about the Glassworks project and its rezoning difficulties, and about a report on housing just released by ROMA (Rural Ontario Municipalities Association). “They’d like to change the definition of ‘settlement areas,’” said Peabody, who has been advocating for increased growth in hamlets.

He requested a planning staff report on the matter.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times