Housing crisis requires innovative ideas – what’s the answer?

Everyone recognizes that there is a rising housing crisis locally, regionally and provincially and even beyond and various levels of government are trying to get a handle on the situation to try to develop affordable and attainable housing.

Locally at the county level, Bruce County is offering the Home Ownership Program.

The Program provides five per cent (5%) down payment assistance for new home owners in the form of a forgivable loan if the home is owned for 20 years.

The Program is available to residents who have an annual income of $82,000 or less and are purchasing a home valued at $340,000 or less.  Unfortunately, with housing prices soaring, properties valued at $340,000 are almost non-existent and the Program may have to be updated.

Also, in an attempt to further reduce homelessness, Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI) together with the YMCA are working to improve access to adequate, suitable and affordable housing that is linked to flexible support services based on peoples’ needs.

The Housing Stability Fund was also developed to provide assistance with rent and utility arrears, first or last month’s rent and moving expenses. An application for the Housing Stability Fund can be found at http://chpi.brucecounty.on.ca/application/create

According to the Bruce County website, “CHPI provides funding for the Community Support Program to deliver support in the resolution of tenant and community issues. This includes: providing services to prevent tenant evictions; assisting with the quality of life of tenants; developing and maintaining a cooperative and partnership-based working relationship between local community service providers; tracking and analyzing various performance indicators and reporting on the successes; and suggesting changes to improve the outcomes of individuals and families served to prevent homelessness and maintain affordable housing.”

For further information and to verify funding availability, contact the Bruce County Housing office at 1-800-265-3022.

At the municipal level, Saugeen Shores established the Affordable Housing Task Force of community volunteers and headed up by Vice-deputy Mayor Mike Myatt.

Among members of the Task Force were representatives from Bruce Power, Habitat for Humanity, the County of Bruce, community residents, Council members, the business community and the YMCA.

In February, 2021, following several meetings and a public survey that included comments from those at all levels of income and all ages, the Task Force arrived at a Final Report with many recommendations.

The Task Force brought forward many issues that are contributing to the soaring costs, both for home ownership and rentals.

With the high costs for a roof overhead, an employee shortage has also resulted as people can no longer afford to live where they work creating a compounding affect.  The loss of rent controls and reduction of rents geared-to-income availability over the years has resulted in a landlord position of strength where rents have increased exorbitantly and are now unaffordable for many.

When it comes to home ownership, real estate pricing has made ownership far above attainable for many and, when it comes to municipal zoning By-laws, alternative housing is more often than not, prohibited.

Jay Pausner, Town Supervisor of Development pointed out in the Task Force Final Report  that “… R2 zoning for duplexes and multi-family units are a different concept and Saugeen Shores does not currently allow secondary detached suites”, although it was one of the recommendations in the report.

While there are many housing developments moving forward in Saugeen Shores, the evidence has shown that they will not be ‘affordable’.  According to the recent Planning meeting, there will be more than 700 units coming on to the market in the municipality. The question is however … how many of those will be considered below-market-value ‘attainable’?

Housing is at a crisis stage not only in Saugeen Shores and Bruce-Grey Counties but has become a global issue where those who cannot afford housing are what was once referred to as the ‘downtrodden’ (Meaning: Those treated very badly by people with power, and do not have the ability or the energy to do anything about it).

Impossible mortgage restrictions by the banking industry, that include a minimum twenty per cent (20%) down payment and a credit score of an almost impossible 700 rating, make ownership out of sight for most.  Instead of being able to pay a mortgage of what may be $1,800 per month, an equal amount is going into the pocket of a developer or landlord.  Instead of encouraging home ownership and building an asset, the system seems to encourage people to remain in the rental market and, without rules, at the mercy of landlords.

Housing is definitely at a crisis point and, none more obvious, than in Saugeen Shores and the surrounding area as people have begun to migrate from urban centres to the region.  The recent pandemic has created the ‘remote office’ where people and companies have embraced the concept of on-line remote employment.  With people able to work from home, home has now become a viable workplace and, as people escape city living and home-to-work commuting, rural communities such as Saugeen Shores have become more desirable, driving up housing prices even more.

Layering on top is the economic boom that Bruce Nuclear has brought to the area.  With the prosperity that the nuclear industry has created are the many jobs and families that will be coming to the area over the coming years.  While jobs connected to the industry are high-paying, those who work in the service industry to meet the needs of the community work primarily for minimum wage and minimum wage today does not provide an adequate living standard.

Therefore, we are back to square one. High housing costs driving away the workers who are essential to meet the needs of the community in retail and the service industry.

What’s the answer?  A good question.