New housing complex with affordable units helps fill rural housing gap

Though cities tend to have the greatest need for affordable housing, rural areas, such as Plattsville in Oxford County, also are feeling the pinch.

Addressing the need for more affordable homes within its borders, Oxford County is celebrating the opening of Ingrid’s Place, a 30-unit housing complex for seniors featuring 22 units designated as affordable, in Plattsville – a village about 30 kilometres north of Woodstock in Blandford-Blenheim Township – but the housing complex underscores the growing need for more affordable housing across the province.

“In some cases, it’s actually worse in rural areas, particularly rural areas closer to the big cities,” said Mike Moffatt, an assistant professor at Western University's Ivey business school and an expert on housing.

Moffatt said a contributor to increased home prices in rural areas are families moving from cities to rural communities which can drive up house prices in smaller towns and displace residents who are priced out of the market.

“If you are a renter in a small town and all of a sudden prices are going through the roof, that can be really challenging,” Moffatt said.

Ingrid’s Place houses residents 55 and older; households with an income between $37,800 and $54,600 can qualify for affordable housing.

Although Oxford County is hosting a “grand opening” on Wednesday, deputy warden and Blandford-Blenheim Township Mayor Mark Peterson said the complex has housed residents for about a year and a half.

“I believe that it was completely booked before it was even built,” Peterson said.

Irene Leeder, 85, and Evelyn Wright, 82, have their own units at Ingrid’s Place. Both said finding affordable housing was difficult.

“I couldn't find it in Kitchener and our sons happened to be friends,” Leeder said. “It was my son who actually got me in here.”

Wright said the cost of her former apartment had increased considerably.

“I had an apartment in Hamilton, which years ago I only paid $700 and now it's up to $1,500,” Wright said.

Peterson said affordable housing is an issue in Oxford County and elsewhere.

“Honestly, I don't think there's enough money to actually come up with enough affordable housing,” he said. “It's just a dilemma we have right across Oxford County and I'm sure this is not new to just Oxford County."

The cost to construct Ingrid’s Place was $6 million. Included was $1.5 million from the county’s affordable housing reserve and $750,000 in federal and provincial contributions.

Projects like Ingrid’s Place fill an essential gap in the housing continuum, offering affordable rental units for vulnerable groups such as seniors, the county said in a new release. The project advances the county’s housing strategy of adding 50 new affordable rental units a year.

Moffatt said open dialogue and a co-operative effort are necessary to combat the province’s housing crisis.

“What's next, hopefully, is getting all three orders of governments together coming up with a co-ordinated plan,” he said. “Making sure that it's not just the big city mayors that are there. . . Our towns and rural areas (should be) represented in that conversation as well."

bwilliams@postmedia.com @BrianWatLFPress The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada

Brian Williams, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press