Penetanguishene tries to define ‘attainable housing’

·4 min read

A presentation by the County of Simcoe regarding a 10-year affordable housing and homelessness prevention strategy was given to Penetanguishene council at a recent regular meeting.

Five strategic themes were addressed in the presentation: governance, achieving affordable housing targets, protecting public assets, planning, and creating an integrated service model for housing and support.

“We are required to report to the province as well as to the public with respect to the progress on an annual basis; we do that in the form of a report card,” said Greg Bishop, general manager of social and community services. “(County) council approved of the strategy in 2014, and set a minimum target at the time of 2,685 new units by 2024.”

As of December 31, 2021, the county and its community partners had created 2,531 new units, reaching 94 percent of the minimum target set for 2024.

Within Penetanguishene, a target was initially set for 44 new units; last year that number had been reached and exceeded at 81 new units with three years remaining on the clock.

“At 81 units, the town is doing quite well,” said Bishop, “but again recognizing there’s a need for affordable housing across the county, certainly in all areas – and one would argue certainly across the province and the nation.”

Those units consist of 38 rent supplements, 21 in new rental development, 17 secondary suites, and five home-ownership down-payment assistance.

“Before the strategy started, there were also 40 affordable units created at the Georgian Village campus,” Bishop added.

County implementation manager John Connell noted that in protecting public assets mostly built in the late 20th century, the desired strategy outcome was set to 85 percent, and as of last year 92 percent of original stock remained in the system with 99 percent of those continuing as affordable housing.

Additionally, data from the 2021 centralized wait list revealed 4,664 households; an increase of 2.6 percent from 2020. Wait times had also decreased for households with dependents, but increased for seniors and households without dependents.

“In Penetanguishene specifically, there are 107 rent geared to income units,” said Connell, “and they’re all owned and operated by Simcoe County Housing Corporation.”

The strategy consists of three implementation phases of 895 new affordable housing units targets for each phase; the third phase began in 2021. Next steps for the strategy include looking at a new coordinated access system for homelessness supports, producing an updated local needs assessment, developing a new successor strategy, and considerations toward assistive planning tools.

Penetanguishene council members thanked Bishop and Connell before drilling questions specific to affordable housing costs. Coun. Debbie Levy asked Connell to define affordable housing in the town; Connell replied that it was the amount “at-or-below the average market rent for the area as determined by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation annual rent survey."

Levy pressed, “I’d like to know what the actual number is to be considered affordable housing, because below market doesn’t tell me anything, because market right now for a one-bedroom is about $1,600. So is below market $1,500? I really need to know what is considered affordable.”

Connell stated, “Penetanguishene would be included in the same area as Midland, Tay, and Tiny. Currently for a bachelor, that would be $880 (a regional proxy); a one-bed, $996; a two-bed, $1,177.” Using the regional proxy, a three-bed would be $1,539.

Coun. Brian Cummings asked Connell for a definition of ‘attainable housing’, which Connell admitted didn’t have a formal definition beyond the context of creating affordable housing for the workforce in a given area; it was a definition Cummings agreed with.

“An average household in, say, Penetanguishene at $500,000, at 5.25 or more for a mortgage rate – people are paying $2,200 a month trying to get rid of their debt, and if they’re at moderate income there’s no way they can afford that,” Cummings explained.

“In our affordable housing stock, it’s alright to say we’re getting affordable housing, but that is presuming that you’re making about $150,000 a year, combined income, full family. A lot of our residents are not. And the housing stock that we’re producing is not within their range even if we did produce it.”

Bishop responded that the county strategy, and their presentation, was focused on affordable housing and measures, which included eligibility criteria for lower income families with below market goals. He added that the broader obtainable of increasing housing stock was in maximizing opportunities, before noting that he had simplified a complex topic.

The 2021 Simcoe County affordable housing and homelessness prevention strategy updates presentation can be located on the agenda page of the Town of Penetanguishene website.

Meetings of Penetanguishene council are held on the second Wednesday of each month, and can be watched live on Rogers TV cable 53, or on the Rogers TV website.

Archives of council meetings are located on the Town of Penetanguishene YouTube channel.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca

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