Ontario wardens group launches affordable housing campaign

·4 min read

The lack of affordable housing is one of Haliburton County’s main concerns.

And it’s a concern that’s shared by the other 13 members of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (EOWC), said Peter Emon, the group’s chairperson and warden at Renfrew County.

He told Haliburton County council March 22 that about 14,000 affordable community housing rental units are needed to clear wait lists throughout the eastern region.

And, he said, the average wait time for community housing is about five years for all types of housing units. That wait cam jumps to 10 years for some housing types.

“There is a chronic and serious supply problem of not only regular housing, but community or social housing across our region,” he said.

Affordable housing refers to housing with rents geared to a household’s income level.

Some progress has been made to meet the housing needs over the years, he said. But, obviously, efforts have fallen short of filling the shortfall. That’s why the EOWC has put its collective resources and experiences into a new solution.

“It’s big and it’s definitely bold,” Emon said of the new initiative.

Jim Pine, the CAO of Hastings County, said improving the housing inventory requires a collective effort. In his own jurisdiction, the wait list has ballooned to well over 3,000 families from about 2,800 in just a few months.

“The challenge continues to grow in terms of people looking for a place that they can call home, that they can afford,” Pine said. “With a long wait list, the challenge really speaks to the need for us to do something bold.

“If not us, then who is going to work on this challenge?”

The provincial government has a goal to build 1.5-million new homes by 2031. The EOWC has launched an initiative dubbed the 7-in-7 regional housing plan. That’s a plan to deliver 7,000 new affordable rental units over seven years.

“We think that the focus of Ontario’s effort is generally on housing ownership,” Pine said. “We didn’t want the sector of rental to be left out in terms of trying to find a solution.

“We want to be part of the provincial initiative, and we want to do this by working on the rental side in terms of affordable housing.”

No government can fix the problem alone. The 7-in-7 campaign provides an opportunity to collaborate with the private sector.

“Evidence shows us that, typically, when we can incent one RGI unit (rent geared to income) to be built, the private sector will come and build three of their own at market rate rent,” Pine said.

So, in effect, 21,000 gets added to the 7,000 built through the campaign. And 28,000 households get roofs. An estimated $3.1 billion investment to provide 7,000 housing units generates $9 billion of economic activity.

“We think it is the perfect private-public partnership that we are proposing,” he said.

The federal and provincial governments need to invest more into meeting the snowballing need for affordable housing and, further, to help cover the operating costs of social housing.

“It shouldn’t be all done on the backs of property tax payers in our local municipalities,” Pine said. “Ontario is the only jurisdiction in the country where housing is a local responsibility.”

Everywhere else, the provincial and territorial governments are responsible.

“We have a special need in Ontario, and we need the support of all three levels of government,” he said. “We all need to come together in this effort.”

Under the plan, Haliburton County could get 490 housing units at a cost of $198-million. What’s more, Pine said there’s a potential the regional economy could be driven forward for years afterwards.

“We know we can do this because we have expertise working on big projects,” Pine said.

The caucus hopes to have a business case completed by this summer to use as a tool to lure government support. Consultations with Indigenous groups and the private and non-profit sectors will kick off in the summer so that requests for proposals can be issued in the fall.

“It’s ambitious but, as I said at the beginning, if not us, then who is going to do this?” he said.

Federal and provincial politicians have said time and again that they’re focused on fixing housing problems. Warden Liz Danielsen, the mayor of Algonquin Highlands, said supporting this plan may be the nudge those decision-makers need.

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James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Minden Times