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There’s no local path to affordable housing

Having earlier this year come to the rescue of A Better Tent City, Kitchener has again provided a site for the organization that supports homeless people. ABTC’s tiny homes were relocated to a site on Ardelt Avenue, sharing properties owned by the city and the school board.

How long the group can remain at the site remains to be seen – organizers are still looking for a long-term solution. Of course, the best solution for ABTC, and all other homelessness groups, would be finding permanent housing for those in need, though that’s not a likely option in the foreseeable future.

While municipalities struggle with the issue of affordable housing – a systemic problem well beyond the relatively few homeless people in Waterloo Region, for instance – the provision of some land to plunk down 50 very tiny homes was a very simple solution, by comparison.

Dealing with the homeless is one of those seemingly intractable issues.

Figures from 2018 put the number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness in Waterloo Region at 175, with the same number deemed episodically homeless. On an average day, there are 242 people occupying shelter beds, almost half of whom are among the chronically homeless. Another 40 people are unsheltered at any given time – it’s from among those people that ABTC draws residents.

Shelters are the frontline of the homelessness issue. Other organizations such as ABTC come at the situation from different angles. Short-term solutions emerge at times, often sponsored by church groups that provides the kind of drop-in food-and-shelter services we associate with street people, serving meals and providing overnight shelter. Staffed by volunteers, they provide services from different locations on a rotating schedule.

At a broader level, the rising home costs we’re all familiar with have an impact on affordable housing. The price increases ripple through the entire economy, doing the most harm to the disadvantaged.

The region and local municipalities such as Woolwich have made noises about tackling the crisis of affordable housing, but their efforts will be in vain – nothing they’ve suggested will have a significant impact on the problem.

While a few rent-geared-to-income projects at the regional level will help the most disadvantaged, they’ll do nothing to stem rising housing costs that far exceed the standard definition of “affordable”: no more than 30 per cent of household income.

Municipalities can cut some red tape and even lower or eliminate the multitude of fees and costs, development charges chief among them, that add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of a new home, but the market would only end up replacing those costs as profits. (Which is not to argue that municipalities shouldn’t work towards eliminating fees and associated expenditures in their own budgets, only that such moves would not have much of an impact on housing costs.)

The rising cost of buying a home is ultimately reflected in higher rental rates – the issues are linked. Not by any stretch of the imagination could it be said that buying a house in this area is affordable, particularly for first-timers. The crunch gets even larger the closer one gets to the GTA.

Housing prices have been over-inflated largely by easy credit. There has been some movement on creating more affordable house – rent-geared-to-income projects, for instance – but demand far outstrips supply.

For now, the only real way to end the upward price of housing and steer back toward affordability is to immediately stop growth, allowing the population to follow such that supply outstrips demand. Alternatively, large increases in interest rates would kill the market overnight, leading to a plunge akin to what we saw in the U.S. in 2008.

Neither option is politically saleable, so what we’ll get are some platitudes, more wasted money and continued hand-wringing.

A little more local for your inbox.

Seven days. One newsletter. Local reporting about people and places you
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