The number of people living precariously in the city of Peterborough and in Canada has been growing in the past few decades.

To live precariously is to live without certainty of income and without the security of self that comes with it. It is a sociological and political term that is used in reference to individuals without access to steady and secure forms of employment. It represents the dangers of an insecure labour market.

Analysis of precarious livelihoods look at the ways in which insecure livelihoods affect the health and mental health of the individual, and at the societal level, analyses look at how precarity affects gender relations, social reproduction, and class contention.

Precarious incomes engenders a precarity in terms of housing, food security, health, and other aspects. Essentially precarity of income translates to a precarity in terms of basic needs fulfillment when expenses are required. This issue comes to a head in terms of shelter provision. The fall into homelessness represents the tipping point from precarious living to destitution.

Measures are taken up by the state, civil society, and non-governmental organizations to account for the growing crisis in affordable housing. In the face of a housing market that is tending upwards, initiatives are taken up to provide affordable housing and slow the slide of many individuals and families into destitution.

This article will outline the issue of affordable housing and precarious living in the city.

window

Precarity and the State

Academic discussions have linked the rise of precarious living globally to the spread of neoliberal capitalism around the world.

Neoliberalism advocates for free market principles with little or no state intervention in the economy. In their arguments, intervention in the economy includes social welfare services like the provision of basic human needs.

Over the past few decades and continuing today, the Canadian state has been rolling back its provision of social services as it evolves to embody more neoliberal values.

In practice, this rollback has meant the downloading of social services to different levels of government. In the case of affordable housing, the 1990s saw a major shift as the federal government offloaded financial and administrative responsibility for social housing to provincial governments.

This has created differentiation of housing programs between provinces with some boasting generous social housing programs, and others with conservative programs.

Since 2000, federal financial support has been decreasing by exponential differences such that by 2033, federal funding will be $0.

In Ontario, the provision of these services has been further downloaded to the municipal level. Starting only this year, municipalities are now responsible for the provision of affordable housing and services that address homelessness. Ontario is the only province to offload to the municipal level in such a way.

This has ramifications in the precarity of funding for social housing projects. Increasingly, governments are encouraging civil society and not-for-profits to take up the provision of social services.

This phenomenon is termed “the shadow state” in academics and implies that the state distances itself from the provision of welfare but is still engaged through grants and funding to partner organizations.

This can mean spotty service in some cases, and often it means the divergence of NGO resources from providing these social services to the manpower needed to apply for these grants.

It also means that such organizations that are reliant on donor fundraising are limited to causes that are attractive to donors. In Peterborough, such initiatives that provide affordable housing to ex-convicts, like the Peterborough Community Chaplaincy’s Transition House, are vulnerable to funding shortages despite a need for the services they provide.

It is clear that the rollback of state funding to these social issues correlates to increases in the prevalence of issues.

In the past decade the average market rent has increased by 30%, while income has failed to keep pace. Peterborough now has one of the unfriendliest housing markets for the low-income and shows very little promise for improvement.

restore

The Realities of the Housing Market

In 2012, 50.4% of renters in the city of Peterborough were paying more than 30% of their gross annual income on shelter expenses.

Renters paying this much of their income are qualified as “Core Housing Need”, a term used by service providers and analysts to track the affordability of housing. Additionally, 22.8% of renters were paying more than 50% their gross income on shelter expenses; this is termed “Severe Core Housing Need”.

The reality is that Peterborough has one of the worst markets for affordable housing in the province. Second only to Barrie, Peterborough renters pay more of their income for shelter than most other Ontario municipalities.

This is intimately connected to the profusion of low-wage and part-time work in the city. The Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough (CFGP) reports that 25% of the labour market in Peterborough is reliant on part-time work. These jobs are poor-quality, and insufficient for supporting individuals and especially families.

In order to afford the average monthly rent for a 2-bedroom apartment ($899) a minimum wage employee would need to clock over 100 hours reports a study by the Affordable Housing Action Committee (AHAC). With the tendency for jobs created recently to be part-time, this is becoming an impossible feat for many.

The Peterborough housing market in particular is not conducive to providing affordable housing. Without intervention by not-for-profit organizations and state initiatives the market would not provide housing at rates accessible to many residents.

Susan Bacque, Manager of the Housing Division at the City of Peterborough, sees that a high turnover rate, particularly in the student market, is driving rent prices up. She said, “Where you have a rental marketplace where a component of it has a high turnover rate, particularly within that sector, you will be driving rents up, and here, that sector is student housing.”

Landlords are not able to increase rents with a current tenant more than 0.8% in 2014; however, this does not control the rates landlords set with new tenants. The presence of student renters in the Peterborough market offers a high turnover rate for landlords.

Student leases often go from year to year with students living in a new place every year. This can result in rent prices tending upwards as landlords are not restricted by the legislation around long-term tenants in how they fix their rent prices.

Bacque said, “Where you have students moving in for a year and then moving out, you have vacancy decontrol … Where you have a rental marketplace where a component of it has a high turnover rate, particularly within that sector, you will be driving rents up, and here, that sector is student housing.”

Landlords are not able to increase rents with a current tenant more than 0.8% in 2014; however, this does not control the rates landlords set with new tenants. The presence of student renters in the Peterborough market offers a high turnover rate for landlords.

Student leases often go from year to year with students living in a new place every year. This can result in rent prices tending upwards as landlords are not restricted by the legislation around long-term tenants in how they fix their rent prices.

Bacque said, “Where you have students moving in for a year and then moving out, you have vacancy decontrol…Where you have a long-term a tenant, the rents are lower than where you have tenants who move every year and there is no rent control.”

This is further compounded by the fact that the rental apartment vacancy rate is comparatively low in the city (4.8% in 2013). A market with a low vacancy rate means that landlords can charge more for less, as there is insufficient competition to keep prices down.

The City of Peterborough offers several incentive programs for landlords to promote the provision of affordable housing in the larger housing market. These include waiving of municipal taxes, reimbursement of taxes, and the waiving of certain municipal charges related to property development.

The CFGP reports that the living wage for a resident of Peterborough would have to be upwards of $14.30 for a single person, or $16.47 for two wage earners supporting a family of 4 in order to afford the cost of living.

With much of the employment opportunities in the city limited to part-time, minimum-wage work, housing is unaffordable for large swaths of Peterborough residents.

the mount

What is Affordable Housing?

Affordable housing is allocated in two different ways: by offering rent calculated to be below average market rates, or by calculating rent on a case-by-case basis according to household income.

Of the 1,887 social housing rental units in the city, 10% are offered at average or below average market rates, while 90% are ‘rent geared to income’ accommodations.

Demographically, in Peterborough the issue is more likely to affect seniors who have been working precarious and low-income jobs (without pensions) for much of their lives without an opportunity to save for retirement. These individuals make up a significant portion of the precarious class in Peterborough and are key users of affordable housing programs in the city.

For those on the Ontario Works program, financial assistance is given to offset the costs of housing and groceries. There are various limits to housing allowances based on household need. These housing allowances can be insufficient in Peterborough due to the high cost of rent, leading to the prioritization of shelter over needs like food.

Katherine Blackwell of Kawartha Participation Projects (KPP) and chair of the Affordable Housing Action Committee (AHAC) said, “Very often people are robbing the grocery fund to pay for rent and turning toward food cupboards and such programs. So, other things suffer.”

Housing security and income security correlate to health outcomes. A lack of affordable housing undermines the ability of households to fulfill other basic needs. The Peterborough County and City Health Unit (PCCHU) reports that the circumstances that one lives in are key determinants of health.

In a Community Assessment Report from 2010, they state, “a lack of income, job security, or stable housing creates considerable stress. This results in a physical process which weakens the cardiovascular and immune systems and can result in considerable health damage.”

Key to improving health among the low-income is increasing job and housing security.

mount st joseph

Affordable Housing Programs

Currently the City of Peterborough operates the largest social housing project called the Peterborough Housing Corporation. They operate 1044 units, which are rented to approximately 4000 residents, as well as provide rent supplements to 275 subsidized units that are rented privately.

The city also supports 19 not-for-profit organizations that privately provide affordable housing, including Homegrown Homes, TVM, and the Mount Community Center.

Donna Clarke, Executive Director of Homegrown Homes, sees the issue as a structural misplacement of resources that results in capital allocated for housing initiatives being inaccessible for many providers.

She said, “It doesn’t have to do with the level of funding but how it’s allocated. I can get money to pay an architect or an environmental assessment, I can get all kinds of that money, but I can’t get kind of that money to put down on a house or a duplex. There is something fundamentally wrong with a system that doesn’t allow that.”

Private providers of affordable housing are able to receive funding from the city through an application process.

Clarke finds that there are limited resources available for ‘bricks and mortar’ projects that would physically build the accommodations for affordable housing. There are several initiatives that offer subsidies for existing social housing, affordable rental construction loans, and home ownership assistance loans.

This is all completed in order to reduce the numbers of homeless individuals in the city. From the purely cost based analysis, homeless individuals cost the state significantly more in their use of healthcare services, shelters, and other programs. These costs are offset significantly when housing is provided.

The lack of affordable housing is an issue that is often termed a ‘crisis’ but in spite of this rhetoric, there still seems to be insufficient allocation of state resources to changing the structures that allow it to take place. The systemic issues of poverty and precarious livelihoods indicate that this developing issue will remain prevalent for decades to come.