To put more of a human face on the problem, a group that addressed Southgate council on the need for attainable housing shared a couple of stories. These come from people who point to rent as the biggest reason they are using the local food bank.
Muriel Scott and Gerry McNalty, who help with the Dundalk food bank, presented to Southgate council last week, asking for policy changes and a task force on attainable housing.
In one family, they said, both adults work and 90 percent of the woman’s income goes directly to rent and utilities – and she noted it’s not a minimum wage job. She carpools to work, but her husband has a vehicle.
They are paying between $1,700 and $1,800 monthly in rent, and consider themselves lucky, as similar houses are now renting for $2,200 per month, which she called “astronomical.”
They are renting a place that’s bigger than what they wanted because they couldn’t find anything smaller but still suitable for a family.
Another pressure on the rental market is that cheaper apartments in older homes are disappearing as the houses are sold off because of soaring real estate prices, Mr. McNalty said.
That was the case for a single father, who was paying $1,600 per month rent in Dundalk. When the house was sold, he looked in town and found nothing that he could afford. He eventually found something at a similar rate in the country, where he expects his utility bills to be much higher.
The pressure definitely isn’t just on working families, they said. High rents also mean increasing shortfalls for those who aren’t working, because Ontario Works and Ontario Disability rates have been unchanged for several years.
The housing allowance on Ontario Works is about $400 for a single, about $650 for a couple and about $700 for a couple with one child.
But typical rents in Grey-Bruce are often more than twice that level and have increased by hundreds of dollars in the last year, Ms Scott said.
“When those costs go up, the food budget tends to go down,” she said, and expressed concern that numbers using food banks will increase as economic effects due to COVID-19 shut-downs continue, while government support does not.
Councillors and the presenters agreed that there were short, medium and long-term issues to be addressed.
“One size doesn’t fit all,” Ms Scott commented, but she added it’s possible to develop a plan and priority list and work on it.
Mayor John Woodbury said that there’s a need to grab the low-hanging fruit of changes that can be made now and look at what the community can do for the future.
M.T. Fernandes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Dundalk Herald