A record 171,360 Ontario households were waiting for affordable housing in 2015, with average wait times of almost four years, according to an annual report that tracks need across the province.
But the report, being released Wednesday by the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, will be the organization’s last.
With the province set to introduce a portable housing benefit and municipalities offering housing supplements and other programs to subsidize rent, the association says its annual tally of households waiting for rent-geared-to-income (RGI) units no longer represents the full picture of supply and need in Ontario.
The association will be develop new ways to track the province’s affordable-housing landscape for future reports. (Housing is generally defined as “affordable” when a household pays no more than 30 per cent of gross income on shelter costs.)
“All levels of government have begun exploring financial assistance options beyond RGI housing,” says the association, which represents more than 700 non-profit housing providers in the province that oversee more than 163,000 affordable units.
“Data from RGI waiting lists . . . doesn’t accurately reflect the depth of housing need in Ontario, or the various other ways in which people are getting help with housing costs in their communities,” the report says.
With that caveat, the report notes demand for RGI units continues to grow, with a 1.6 per cent increase last year over 2014.
In Toronto, the waiting list increased by 5.1 per cent to 82,414 households. Average wait times in the city are among the longest in the province, with families languishing on the list for almost 10 years and seniors waiting just a year less.
But those are averages. Laurie Simpson has been waiting for a bachelor or one-bedroom apartment in the city’s west-end for 12 years.
The 56-year-old single woman says she’d be happy to give up her place in line in exchange for a housing allowance to make her $770-a-month bachelor apartment more affordable. But she wonders when the province or the city will make that kind of financial help more widely available.
“My rent takes up 65 per cent of my income,” says Simpson, who became disabled due to a workplace accident about 15 years ago. She survives on $1,110 in monthly Ontario Disability Support Program benefits.
“Every month I take $300 out of my food money to pay rent,” she says.
Simpson says she can’t afford Internet service and barely has enough money for TTC fare to travel to her medical appointments several times a week.
“I just stay in my apartment and live frugally. I feel pretty beaten down.”
Although the province is giving municipalities more flexibility in the use of federal-provincial housing funds, the need to build more non-profit housing is not going away, the report warns.
“Rent-geared-to-income housing is designed to be affordable, literally forever and serves a very important purpose,” said the association’s executive director Sharad Kerur.
“The private sector will claim it can build affordable housing, and of course it can with various government tools,” he said in an interview. “But the problem is that they aren’t in it for the long haul at 15 to 20 years, maximum.”
Meantime, portable housing benefits only work if there is a reasonably healthy vacancy rate. Otherwise, rents will go up and limit the amount of affordable housing the benefits can buy, he added.
The association is disappointed there were no new funds earmarked specifically for non-profit housing in Ontario’s updated long-term affordable-housing strategy, released in March, Kerur said. But he hopes the oversight is corrected when Ottawa crafts its promised national housing strategy.
“Housing policies and programs are changing, but the need for all levels of government to come together and ensure that Ontarians have access to safe and secure places to call home remains the same,” he said.
Affordable housing in Ontario by the numbers
- 171,360: Number of households waiting for rent-geared-to-income housing in 2015.
- 45,000: Increase in number of households waiting since 2003.
- 32 per cent: Seniors’ share of the wait list in 2015, up from 22 per cent in 2003.
- 3.9: Average number of years a household waits for an assisted unit.
- 82,414: Number of Toronto households waiting for an affordable unit.
- 8.4: Average number of years a Toronto household waits for an affordable unit.
- $1,274: Average rent for two-bedroom apartment in Toronto in October 2015.
Source: Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.
May 25, 2016
Laurie Monsebraaten – Social Justice Reporter – Toronto Star
Photo: Melissa Renwick