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Friday, November 22, 2019
Connecting Our Communities

Boosting affordable housing

Program fills the gap between rental rates and what qualified tenants can afford to pay, based on income

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Given a growing waiting list for affordable housing, the Region of Waterloo is looking for socially minded landlords to help bridge the gap.

Its rent supplement program pays the difference between what landlords charge for apartments and what the tenants can pay, relying on the owners of such properties to sign on. Aimed at low- and moderate-income households, the program has had some success – there are 21 buildings available for the program in the Woolwich and Wellesley townships alone – but the region would like to see more landlords sign on.

“We are reaching out to landlords interested in collaborating and addressing the affordable housing issue in Waterloo,” said Jennifer Murdoch-Martin, the region’s manager of housing programs and development. “The landlord is made whole on their rent, so to speak; they still get their economic value out of their unit – now they get social value out of their unit.”

Affordable housing is a growing issue in the region, with a waitlist of more than 4,000 individuals and families. The executive director of MennoHomes, Dan Driedger, noted the need for affordable housing has grown in recent months.

“The vacancy rates are very low,” said Driedger. “It’s a constant battle for people looking for housing, especially if they’re on a limited income, if they’re on a fixed income, or working at a lower wage job with a family to support – it’s pretty tough.”

The limited supply of affordable housing stock and considerably low turnover rate are contributing factors to this growing problem, with Driedger noting the extremely low turnover rate present in the townships.

“We constructed the building we have in Elmira in 2017, and then we have a number of other units throughout Wellesley and Elmira, and we have had one turnover in the last year,” said Driedger.

“If people are already in affordable rental housing, unless something is driving it, they’re not likely to move to more expensive housing. So it doesn’t necessarily free up those lower rental units, even if moderate rent units come on stream.”

A household is eligible for the rent supplementary program depending on several factors, including the municipality in which they live, the type of unit they’re looking for, and their overall income. For example, those seeking a bachelor unit in Wellesley Township can make up $24,500 a year to qualify for the rent supplementary program, while in Woolwich that number is $27,000.

The program also offers supports with tenant-landlord relationships should the need arise.

“It’s really important that we maintain positive relationships with our landlords and with our tenants,” said Murdoch-Martin. “We do have staff that will work with landlords and tenants to ensure that all issues in the tenancy are going well. Rent payment is one part of the program, but also  being a good tenant and being a good landlord. Landlords have obligations and rights, and so do tenants. So where there are issues, we would offer to help navigate those issues together.”

The program complements pre-existing secondary suites offered by the region,  a program that allows homeowners to apply for up to $25,000 to construct a legal apartment on their property, rented out for below the average market rate.

“We probably have over 70 landlords right now engaged in this rent supplementary program,” said Murdoch-Martin. “The program itself has been in place for decades. It’s just now we need more, we need to refresh our roster of landlords engaged in the program, and raise some awareness. Our community is growing, and with it our need for affordable housing.”

While the program may be helpful, it could also face some challenges in the future.

“The rent supplement program can be helpful in maybe helping to bridge the gap for somebody who is not able to pay at the higher rate, and you can’t build new units quickly enough,” said Driedger. “So it helps to bridge that, but the challenge with that is it becomes an ongoing program cost.”

The Region is in the market rental units that range from $832 for a bachelor apartment and $1,036 for a one-bedroom apartment, to $1,459 for a unit that has three or more bedrooms. Landlords who are interested in the program can call 519-575-4005 or email jmurdoch@regionofwaterloo.ca.

 

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