Report Highlights Ontario’s Housing Needs – Where’s Home? 2008
We go to press this year (March 2009) as the world economy continues to slide into one of the deepest recessions of the last 50 years. Here in Ontario it is, as yet, unclear how serious and prolonged this situation will be. Our dependence on the auto sector and on exports to the United States suggest that the next few years will be, to say the least, very challenging. This, of course, will especially apply to our constituency of low income tenants and co-op members. These families and individuals are more vulnerable to economic downturns, often relying on part time hours for their income. Further, they have a relative position in the economic hierarchy that has been steadily slipping relative to homeowners and those in higher income groups. In the 10 year period that we look at in this edition, for example, homeowners’ incomes rose at a rate 1.6 times the rate of tenant incomes. This is a very worrisome trend.In this issue of Where’s Home?, we look at this growing gap more closely and find that the housing affordability data echoes the data accumulated by researchers as part of the intensifying debate on the impact of poverty in Ontario. The relative situation of low income renters and co-op members is indeed worsening.
An astonishing one-in-five tenant households still spend more than 50% of their income on rent. This figure increased from 15% to 20% between 1990 and 1995 and remained constant for the next 10 years while the economy steadily grew. There are now over 260,000 households in this incredibly difficult situation that forces daily choices between, what most Ontarians would view as, necessities.
Of great worry, is the fact that this data is from the 2006 census, so we have no contemporary data to measure the impact of the recession on the number of Ontarians paying more that 50% of their income on rent. One can only assume the situation is worsening.
• Rents in Ontario are, for the most part, rising faster than incomes.
• Rental units lost to demolition and conversion continues to exceed new, purpose built units being produced. There were only 3,000 rental units built in 2007. Overall, there was a loss of 8,500 units during the last decade in 211 of the municipalities we monitor.
• Rental and co-op housing production remains low relative to need, which we estimate to be 10,000 units annually over the next 10 years.
• Vacancy rates continued to drop, making it harder to find suitable rental accomodations.
• Wait lists for social housing remain long, so long that many households are not even registering. In some areas, the wait for an affordable housing unit in many categories is over five years. In one instance, the Region of Peel, the wait is over 20 years.
In one sense, this enormous affordable housing problem is a subset of the overall challenge of poverty, which clearly calls for a sustained effort by our governments and our society in general, to change. However, CHF Canada Ontario Region and ONPHA have always argued that safe, affordable housing must be the foundation of any systemic set of anti-poverty policies. Without secure housing, the ability to get and hold a job, maintain a harmonious household, look after one’s health, and succeed in an educational environment are all jeopardized.
We believe that affordable housing policies must be the centre piece of governments’ emerging anti-poverty policies. We hope current governments will recognize this as they struggle with budget choices over the next few years and try, even in the face of recession, to implement anti-poverty policies.
Similarly, we believe that the need to stimulate the economy offers an opportunity to make up for lost time with respect to the maintenance of our existing social housing stock and the production of new affordable housing. Both are proven to create jobs. We were pleased to see that housing funding formed a significant part of the Federal budget. We were also pleased with the opposition’s amendments requiring regular reports to Parliament on the implementation of the budget measures. These amendments are important because, over the last several years, successive Federal government have been notoriously slow and inefficient in designing, and implementing, many housing and infrastructure programs.
So, while the overall feeling in Ontario in early 2009 is one of anxiety and worry – and we sense that this is especially the case for our constituency of low and modest income households, seniors, and those living in supportive housing – this economic crisis may have the benefit of bringing years of housing policy neglect into focus and may bring affordable housing back to its rightful place in the top tier of constantly evolving and consistently funded policy priorities.
We hope so.
>> Download report Where’s Home? 2008.