Community Counselling & Resource Centre

Peterborough housing crisis called worse than Toronto

February 10th, 2018

Peterborough's affordable housing crisis is worse than Toronto's based on those in need, according to a local housing advocate.

John Martyn, vice-president of the Mount Community Centre and the Peterborough Poverty Reduction Network, said Peterborough has a reputation of being one of the most needy communities for affordable housing in Ontario.

"On a person basis relative to the need, it's way worse even than Toronto," said Martyn.

Martyn was among nearly 40 people who discussed affordable housing at The Mount on Friday.

Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister and Peterborough MPP Jeff Leal led the discussion, which was hosted by The Mount and PPRN.

Representatives from dozens of organizations such as the Older Women's Network, Kawartha Participation Project and the Shared Dreams Project attended.

In 2016, Peterborough's vacancy rate dropped to 1 per cent, tying with Guelph for the lowest vacancy rate in Ontario.

The low rate is the result of a number of factors, Marytn said, such as a lack of housing, gaps in income, lack of government support and the sheer cost of developing housing.

"It becomes particularly difficult because we have so many people who are paying way in excess of 30-60 per cent of limited incomes on rents that are high," Martyn said.

To be considered affordable, housing should cost less than 30 per cent of total before-tax household income, according to Peterborough Public Health.

Yet more than 50 per cent of renters in the city and county spend more than that on rent and utilities.

Katherine Blackwood, property manger for Kawartha Participation Projects and chair of the Affordable Housing Action Committee, said low vacancy rates mean higher market rents.

And that hits those on low incomes the hardest.

"The people at the lowest level of income, really can't find housing that's affordable to them," she said.

When residents pay upwards of their entire income to keep a roof over their heads, they have to go without in other ways, she added.

"Then they can't afford groceries and other needs," Blackwood said.

A 1 per cent vacancy rate also means it's nearly impossible for residents to move.

"There's nothing out there for anybody, nobody has any options, nobody has any choice," she said.

Gathering community leaders to discuss the crisis and work towards finding solutions is vital, Blackwood said. Issues can then be taken to a higher level of government to develop policy and address needs.

Martyn agreed, saying tackling affordable housing is more than just a bricks and mortar issue.

"There's also a supports and service issue," he said.