Homes for the few

Posted by on December 6, 2011 at 11:29 pm.

The teachers who educate our children, the nurses who care for our sick, and the police who patrol our roads don’t, for the most part, live in the County, according Gina Cockburn, chair of the The Prince Edward County Affordable Housing Working Group (AHWG).

Though it is likely too broad a generalization, Cockburn’s comments point to a real and growing problem in the County—a dire lack of affordable housing.

The working group met Thursday to discuss the findings of a study the group had commissioned to address the issue in the County.

The study, funded by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada through their Homeless Partnering Strategy, was prepared by SHS Consulting, a group that has done research studies and action plans for municipalities across Ontario. In it, SHS identified nine key issues and made 31 recommendations for action to solve those issues.

SHS used community research, stakeholder interviews, data from various organizations and examples of neighbouring communities to come up with both the apparent issues and their solutions. Some of the problems identified were a loss of rental units and not enough small residences being built to fit the needs of the aging population.

The final draft of the research was presented to council on December 21 last year. In March it was reviewed with Chris Laundry from Prince Edward-Lennox and Addington Social Services (PELASS).The organization is partnering with the County to tackle the problems.

Laundry discussed an action plan, and also discussed Bill 140, a bill from the provincial government that, if passed, would require all municipalities to take responsibility for making sure affordable housing issues like the ones identified in the report are dealt with. If passed, municipalities will have two years to complete the plan.

“Right now, [the municipalities] have zero responsibility for creating affordable housing,” said Gina Cockburn, a lawyer who co-chairs the AHWG. “And now it’s being legislated that they’re going to have to take on at least developing a plan for affordable housing. They have to have a plan. There’s no money attached to this, so there’s no one saying okay, we’re going to give you $6 billion to build affordable housing. No, it’s just that you’ve got to make a plan to figure out how you’re going to deal with the affordable housing issues in your community.”

Bill 140 passed its second reading in Ontario Parliament in March, and it is expected to pass into law before Parliament breaks this summer.

While MPPs on all sides agree that the issue of affordable housing is important and needs to be addressed, critics of the bill, like the Wellesley Institute, a well-respected Ontario think tank on social issues like affordable housing, say that as it stands, the bill doesn’t have the teeth to be effective, especially as the provincial government is not offering money to municipalities to implement it.

“The Ontario government has put up the scaffolding for a long-term affordable housing strategy,” wrote Michael Shapcott, director of affordable housing and social innovation at the Wellesley Institute in a letter to Parliament the day the second reading of the bill was passed. “But there’s plenty of unfinished business for Queen’s Park as it seeks to build a truly comprehensive plan to ensure everyone has access to a healthy, affordable home. There are no targets, timelines and no new housing investments.”

Thursday’s meeting was attended by Councillors Bev Campbell, the founding member of the group, and Robert Quaiff, a new member.

“It’s embarrassing for me because I don’t really understand all there is to know about affordable housing,” said Quaiff. “But it’s time as a municipal representative that I did. And some of the research that I’ve done, my understanding is that the municipality has a really high level of responsibility for affordable housing… so for me it’s education and it’s awareness.

“I think you’ve got this draft report now, and what you have to do is you have to make the entire community aware of it and educate them and get them all on board, which includes municipal councillors and our mayor and staff.”

 

In order to get the County on side, the AHWG decided to tackle the issues and recommendations made in SHS’s study by informing the public about each one, then explaining how those issues impact the community at large, not just those who need access to affordable housing.

There are a lot of ways to answer that, but the chairs of the AHWG had some good points right off the bat.

“Our police officers don’t live in our community,” said Cockburn. “Our teachers don’t live in our community. Probably the nurses that work in our hospital don’t live in our community. Because they can’t afford to… That’s a huge impact, if the people who are providing you a service of whatever sort aren’t living in your community. It deteriorates the fabric of what’s going on around you.”

“If you come here just to do a six-month or a one-year contract and you can’t find some rental accommodation you might actually take that job offer in Kingston instead,” said Deborah Hierlihy, Cockburn’s co-chair and long-time affordable housing activist. “But also, the story is that if you don’t live where you work, then you don’t shop there, either. So when you think about all the dollars that exit when people leave the County after five o’clock, in terms of gas and groceries and restaurants, you see the economic impact that way.”

The group will meet again in August to bring forward those reports and discuss how to disseminate them to the public.The reports and the recommendations in the study will be incorporated into the County’s Strategic Plan.

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