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Affordable housing is crucial for individuals to ensure their health, safety and fortify a sense of dignity and inclusion within the community - these are all vital factors for an adequate life that will safeguard the possibility of prosperity and success. Without suitable shelter, individuals or families are unable to attain an adequate standard of living; bearing insecurity and maallrginalization as a result. The Ontario Human Rights Commission states that,
“Without appropriate housing it is often not possible to get and keep employment, to recover from mental illness or other disabilities, to integrate into the community, to escape physical or emotional violence or to keep custody of children.”
Affordable housing has been under scrutiny since the mid-twentieth century, when housing became a fundamental right with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. With a strong correlation between availability of affordable housing and improved health and economic stability, it is clear that the need for affordable housing is indispensable in fulfilling our basic needs. If housing then, is an internationally recognized fundamental human right, why is accessibility and affordability narrowing? To answer this question, we can analyse the current situation of affordable housing in Peterborough through the Housing is Fundamental Report (2020).
The report expresses many issues uncovered back in 2003 affecting housing in Peterborough. These are still relevant today. Such include the rapid decline in vacancy rates and increases in market rents; home ownership becoming a distant possibility to many Peterborough residents; and the persistent competition between students and low-income individuals for a limited supply of affordable rental units in the market. It was also noted that about one-third of Peterborough households earn less than $30,000 per year, meaning that a significant portion of our society faces the progressing crisis of affordability in the real estate sector. This being said, with increasing disparities between housing and income and as the gap between the possibility of homeownership and rental costs continues to widen, renting has become the most attractive option for a growing segment of our community. Thus, with housing costs running above the income level even for full-time minimum-wage earners, the ability to afford an apartment has become increasingly hard.
“On average a Canadian worker needs to earn $20.20 an hour working full-time to afford a one-bedroom apartment - a wage well above any provincial minimum wage” (pg.5).
The substantial rental increase poses a housing catastrophe for many individuals who work full-time earning minimum-wage salaries. In a comparison done between rents and required annual wages in 2009 and 2019, a massive increase in both rent and annual wages required to afford them was found. In 2009 for example, a bachelor rental unit was costing $589 a month with a required annual wage of $23,560. In 2019 a bachelor unit price rose to $785 monthly and required an annual wage of $31,400 - an increase of 33.3% in ten years. This does not include several other expenses that may arise with the renting unit, such as heat and hydro. What this demonstrates is that individuals or households with an income of less than $30,000 - a segment which currently constitutes around 35,115 individuals, or 8,490 households after tax and 9,735 households earning less than $30,000 annually before tax - are unable to rent any type of apartment “affordably”.
Moreover, between 2015 and 2019, overall rent has increased by 14.4%, far exceeding the inflation rate. That is just a 4 year difference that has brought a significant economic burden to many lower income renters and students who need a place to live during their schooling years. In addition to this, when we take into account that incomes have remained almost stagnant between 2005-2015, with an increase of only 1.7%, rent increased by 21.7%. With mechanisms seeking to regulate the housing market either being non-existing or resulting in failure, prices are skyrocketing - having economic and social repercussions for many households. With increasing immigration targets and population growth due to natural reproduction, Canada’s rental housing shortage will intensify. This can already be identified through the proliferation of homelessness. On average, 119 individuals accessed shelters each night in 2019. This figure has progressively increased over the decade and had a dramatic jump from an average of 68 individuals reported in 2017 to 103 in 2018.
It is then imperative to review the issue of persisting inequality in the era of prosperity for the few and hardships for the many; a period where poverty, insecurity and health decline has been an accelerating path parallel to a minority who have experienced steady growth in their pockets. Lack of affordability and availability in the housing market is a product of widening inequality. With corporate focus on maximizing profits, this atrocious inequality is exemplified with the rise of the richest 1%. Inequality in housing translates into the inability for a growing number of people to have the option of home ownership. As expressed by the report,
“The widening gap between rich and poor is an ever-increasing drain on government treasuries, when expressed in the welfare, health-care and criminal-justice systems.” (pg.17)
Affordable for whom?
What this proves is that the term “affordable” is then misleading at best. The National Housing Strategy has defined “affordability” in relation to average market rents instead of in relation to what households can actually afford to pay. The disparity between the definition of “affordability” and the reality of it sheds light on the fact that despite Canada’s pledge to end homelessness and ensure affordable housing, given the fact that it is a fundamental human right, the crisis has only deepened forcing many households and individuals to become unable to afford housing or becoming financially crippled when doing so; resulting in what is called “housing-induced poverty.” The Ontario Hunger Report (2019) disclosed that over the last three years, there has been a 27% increase in adults with employment income accessing Ontario’s food banks.
Why are these issues proliferating and expanding?
Several reasons have been catalysts for the housing crisis experienced today, including consistent government underfunding, limited additions to social housing, inflating rental costs and stagnant incomes among a significant sector. The competition among a growing population for an ever narrowing housing supply is flooding the city. The financialization of housing has corrupted what should be a “social good” by large and prevalent investments that have had the grave outcome of inflating market rents and fuelling high investment returns to those on the top and leaving those at the bottom in the midst of a precarious situation. This has resulted in larger percentages of people falling into homelessness and facing insecurity and scarcity, exposing them to higher chances of contracting COVID-19, a threat to their physical and mental health, as well as a threat to those around them, while a small amount of people enjoy a persisting prosperity.
What is the government doing about it?
Peterborough is working to reduce, and eventually end, homelessness. The goal is to achieve “functional zero” by 2025. “Functional Zero” means three or less chronically homeless people reported over a period of three months. Supportive housing is key to success in this effort. Supportive housing provides a home with access to on-site supports to ensure people can achieve and maintain housing stability. When an individual or household becomes a supportive housing resident, they are no longer homeless.
Within the Social Services Budget, the 2020 budgeted housing and homelessness totals $22,414,066, a slight increase of $416,866 from last year’s budget. The greatest amounts of funding are going towards the service areas of non-profit and Native housing providers ($7,165,000); homelessness (4,443,344); Peterborough Housing Corporation ($3,804,000); and rent supplement programs ($2,553,250). 46.2% of this budget is funded by the province and other sources, while the City and County of Peterborough split the rest.
Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that although charitable initiatives may soothe the consequences of homelessness, they do not address the structural and policy level failures that create homelessness. These responses to homelessness may thus obscure the need to fund longer-term solutions, such as increasing affordable housing stock.
The report throws light on the unprecedented issue of COVID-19 and the urgent need for affordable housing as a human right. The author’s goal is to dive deeper into the housing discourse and the ever increasing challenge to both the possibility of home ownership and rent affordability. They state that many are spending much more of their income than is advised on shelter, compromising their health and food security. The need for housing is a social determinant for an adequate livelihood, as well as a vital factor to promote prosperity, inclusion and contribution to the community.
Why does this matter to students?
With no new rental housing units built in the last 10 years, rapidly declining vacancy rates and increases in the market rents, a decreasing availability of affordable rental units are being competed for by students and low income individuals. Students are paying high rents, and with other costs associated with University, they have little left to spend on leisure as well as other unexpected expenses. The economic burden and anxiety brought by the ever growing inaccessibility of housing, especially during this pandemic, has worried many students as well as to the Peterborough community in general. With an increasing student population in Peterborough demand for housing will only continue to surpass demand. Wr as students bear the responsibility of urging universities to support housing initiatives and provide student housing so that more housing is available to low-income residents.