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Thunder Bay Facing Severe Affordable Housing Crisis, Advocates Bring Urgent Message To Provincial Consultation

by NationTalk on September 30, 2009527 Views

THUNDER BAY, ON, – Sept. 30 – The Housing Network of Ontario is working with Thunder Bay housing and homelessness advocates to ensure that the real solutions to the housing needs of low-income Ontarians are front and centre at tonight’s provincial government housing consultation. Provincial Housing Minister Watson will be in attendance at Suomi Koti Non-Profit Housing Facility, at 527 County Blvd at 6:30pm. This is the final public consultation held by the government to develop a long term affordable housing strategy.”The momentum is growing amongst the low income community in Thunder Bay, who face many housing challenges,” says Ruth Westcott, a home-owner living on ODSP and co-chair of the Thunder Bay Economic Justice Committee. “We have higher than average heating costs due to our northern climate, and yet social assistance rates do not take these extra costs into account. People’s health is threatened because they are forced to turn down the heat to keep costs low. More tenants are evicted when they can’t pay both the rent and the heating bills.”

“The possibilities are just beginning,” says Joy Asham, a tenant in social housing and co-chair of the Economic Justice Committee. “Our community has come together around this basic human need.”

45% of all tenants in Thunder Bay spend over 30% of their income on rent, while over 17% pay more than half of their income on rent, placing them in danger of becoming homeless. Between 2003-2007, rental units accounted for only 2% of all housing produced. There are 610 households on the active waitlist for social housing, a jump of almost 200 from 446 in 2008.

“Renter households in Thunder Bay are caught in a terrible squeeze between shrinking incomes and rising rents. Household income for renters dropped sharply from $29,800 in 1996 to $24,300 in 2006, yet over that same time, average market rents rose from $672 to $709,” says Michael Shapcott, Director of Affordable Housing for the Wellesley Institute and co-chair of the Housing Network of Ontario. “Meanwhile, the rental vacancy rate has dropped to a painfully low 2.2%. The people of Thunder Bay urgently need a comprehensive provincial housing plan that will provide them the tools they need. For instance, construction has started on a couple of hundred new homes every year in recent times, but without a provincial inclusionary housing rule, there is no requirement that any of those new homes need to be targeted to low and moderate-income households.”

“As Minister Watson wraps up the public housing consultations I hope that he takes to heart what he’s heard from low-income people across Ontario,” says Yutaka Dirks, of the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario and co-chair of the Housing Network of Ontario. “The housing plan has to provide solutions directed to improving the lives of people affected by housing insecurity, especially those who face higher rates of poverty such as Aboriginal and racialized communities, people with disabilities and others.”

The Housing Network of Ontario (HNO) is a network of advocacy organizations and individuals with lived experience of housing insecurity who support an integrated and fully-funded affordable housing strategy. To date, the Housing Network of Ontario Declaration has been endorsed by over 400 organizations and individuals. The Declaration is available online at: www.stableandaffordable.com/content/our-declaration

For further information: or to arrange interviews with Thunder Bay advocates: Yutaka Dirks, 1-866-245-4182 xt. 5243 or (416) 597-5855 xt 5243; Michael Shapcott, (416) 972-1010 ext 231

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