Community Challenge Statement for Affordable Housing

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By Marilyn Struthers, Institute Co-lead, Social Finance & Housing Group

Community Challenge Statement for Affordable Housing

Sustainable Affordable Housing: Data to Drive Effective Decision-making

Wednesday, June 22, 4:30-6pm

By now, few of us will have missed that our rural region, like the big cities, is experiencing a housing crisis. Tonight, we explore the data that give us glimpses of our reality, the numbers behind our escalating rents and house prices, and the precarious stories of people most marginalized by circumstance and the pandemic.

What our numbers tell us is that our local housing crisis is just the tip of an iceberg, the result of how the housing market is structured in relation to area wages.

This housing problem belongs to all of us because, even if you are not affected yet, it will have impact across families and businesses in the coming months. Recent financial circumstances and decisions, made well beyond the borders of our region, mean that housing has turned from a way for families to build home in community and grow equity into a commodity, an investment, and wealth accumulation proposition for some. You will see how our traditionally lower wages in the area have put some working families at a critical disadvantage.

In-migration through the pandemic has brought more people interested in making home to our beautiful communities, bringing new opportunities and new wealth. It has also shifted the ownership structures in some communities, invited NIMBYism (a “Not In My Backyard” approach to affordable development) in a few, exposed the critical shortage of affordable rental units and tipped some families into precarity. You will, by evening’s end, better understand terms like “affordable” and “attainable” housing, “subsidized” or “social housing”, and understand why planning for affordable housing for all must be squarely on the agenda for every municipality, business, and non-profit or philanthropic organization in our region.

Our communities, like many others, are deeply engaged in the justice issues connected to housing precarity and homelessness. However, it is getting clearer that while a focus on equity and those facing extreme adversity post-pandemic is critical, the lack of affordability of housing is also impacting directly on the sustainability of our communities. It makes a difference to everyone’s ability to not only live well, but also to engage in the businesses that employ local people and attract visitors to our area. No homes, no workers, no business.

In our rural communities, traditionally lower-waged employees in the service industries such as restaurants, hospitality, retail, farm labour, and healthcare are unable to find affordable housing, even with the capacity to pay reasonable rents or with down payment saving. We recognize these employment sectors as essential to sustaining our well-being and our economy. This is particularly so for many rural communities whose economies are based on tourism, farming and retirement services.

You will hear tonight about the current lack of our communities’ ability to house people working in these sectors on minimum or even “living” wages. Lack of affordability affects seniors in all income levels as well. A shortage of affordable retirement rentals and condos limits their ability to downsize, making support services more expensive — but also limiting the release of those family homes back into the real estate market.

During the last two years, the Institute’s online discussion series examined what it would take for our communities to be resilient and sustainable in the face of the pandemic, predicting financial capital shortages and the changing economics of in-migration. Now the evidence is that every part of each our communities will be deeply affected by the housing crisis.

In these earlier series, we learned that:

  • the ability of municipalities to work together to achieve scale across our region is critical,
  • each of our 4 key sectors—business, government, non-profit, and philanthropy—hold different parts of solution to a complex problem like the housing crisis, and
  • no single actor, level of government or business sector can resolve it alone.

It is only through cross-dialogue and collaboration in community that we find the innovative made-at-home partnerships that draw on the resources of each.

Out of the pandemic have come some extraordinary community ventures of care. In Owen Sound, OSHaRE has served more than 100,000 meals since the beginning of the pandemic, offering nutrition but also indirectly subsidizing high rental costs. In Meaford, a Chamber of Commerce survey points clearly to business concerns that the lack of affordable housing will constrain regrowth post-pandemic. In The Blue Mountains, the municipality is exploring powers granted by the province to require below market-rate construction in new housing development. And in Collingwood, the citizen-led Affordable Housing Task Force commissioned local research, which identifies the need for significant increases in long-term rental housing for all segments in the community. Several of their recommendations were approved by the Council, and this group will now continue their work as an ongoing committee to help accelerate progress.

The Institute’s Social Finance & Housing Group is participating in a National Lab with Social Innovation Canada and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) looking for new community-led solutions to the housing crisis. Our question is how can we not only give, as volunteers and donors, but also buy, sell, and invest in the kind of community we want to live in, using personal resources to help build a community where an affordable home is possible for everyone? There is a part for every one of us to play. These are expressions of the traditions of rural care and collaboration for the good of the community, and this is the challenge up for discussion tonight.