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Innovative solutions needed to address affordable housing crisis in the north, report suggests

New paper from advocacy groups finds current inventory of affordable housing quickly deteriorating
2021-04-14 House key
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A new report from the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario and Advocacy North suggests that northern Ontario is currently mired in an affordable housing crisis. 

The paper, entitled North at Home, identifies more urgent housing needs and some potential solutions to growing concerns around lack of affordable housing, the condition of existing housing stock and low and moderate income residents being priced out of the rental market.  

Seven key issues were identified in the housing market: 

  • Limited new supply, with high construction costs and a short construction season placing constraints on development
  • Lack of affordable rental housing, with few choices for low and moderate-income
  • tenants and mismatches in the demand and supply of social housing
  • The poor condition of the existing housing stock, particularly in smaller communities where the cost and difficulty of maintenance and repairs is highest
  • High energy costs that affect homeowners as well as tenants and can lead to housing insecurity
  • Lack of adequate housing for the growing senior population who want to remain in their communities but need more supports
  • Growing prevalence of homelessness, particularly hidden homelessness
  • Limited supportive housing, with a growing population in need of support living in social housing and non-profit housing without adequate resources

Nuala Kenny, executive director and lawyer at Algoma Community Legal Clinic, says the current inventory of affordable housing is not only limited, but it's also depleted and deteriorating due to northern Ontario weather.

“The effects of weather on northern Ontario is very impactful on these types of houses. And with COVID, the price of all things home have increased, so the cost of lumber of building materials have increased,” said Kenny. “So even to effect repairs is very expensive, but having to ship some of those materials to northern Ontario adds to the expense also.”

“So you’ve got a very expensive problem that has a very direct effect on people’s lives - literally, on where they live - day in and day out.”

The report suggests a path forward for affordable housing could be found in the preservation of existing affordable housing stock at risk from poor conditions, gaining support for the non-profit housing sector, and developing innovative approaches such as the conversion of vacant buildings, partnerships between service providers, and a focus on eviction prevention programs.

“That is one of the big pluses about a community like Sault Ste. Marie is there’s such great cohesion between those agencies, we can work together and problem-solve - then we will be able to be in a better spot,” said Kenny. “The affordable housing will be truly affordable housing, not substandard housing, and we’ll all be shooting for the same target.”  

Kenny would also like to see poverty be considered as an area of discrimination going forward. 

“One area that is still seemingly open season is that of poverty. There’s a great deal of discrimination for people who are poor. There is an assumption that if you’re poor, you are necessarily a drug user, that if you’re poor, you’re necessarily mentally ill, or if you’re poor, you’re necessarily lazy,” she said. “The poor clients that I have had the privilege of dealing with have been none of those things, but have been some of the bravest, strongest people that I have ever met in my life.”

“I think we need to change our perspective about what’s okay and what’s not okay anymore in Ontario, and it’s time that I think poverty be an area of discrimination, which is prohibited and illegal, especially in a first-world country like Canada.”

The North at Home paper is the result of a two-day forum that drew upon a number of sources, including first-hand accounts of residents, community and legal clinic workers, and interviews with housing stakeholders, municipal officers and a review of academic literature. 

“We’re delighted to say that the report is a first step in the right direction. The report has brought sort of public awareness to the problems faced by particularly northern Ontario low-income tenants and affordable housing tenants,” Kenny said. 

The full report can be found on the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario website.