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Grey County pushes forward with affordable housing strategies

·6 min read

Housing prices in Southern Georgian Bay continue to skyrocket and the trend is painting a bleak future for affordable housing in the region.

“Between high market rent and a low vacancy rate that poses a problem for people that are looking for affordable housing,” said Anne Marie Shaw, director of housing for Grey County.

Shaw presented a housing and homelessness report to county council at a meeting held on Thursday, which outlined a number of concerning housing trends in the region.

For housing to be considered affordable it must be 30 per cent or less of a household’s gross income. Through her report, Shaw provided three examples of what that 30 per cent would look like, for instance:

However, due to rising housing prices and shrinking vacancy rates, finding rental until at these prices in the South Georgian Bay is unheard of.

“We know that these rents do not exist in the private market, and so that's why affordable and community housing is an important part of our community,” said Shaw. “We are the ones that are tasked with providing affordable rents through our community housing or non-profit housing and our rent supplements.”

According to Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the average market rent in Grey County for a one-bedroom is $817 a month. However, according to Shaw, across Grey County a one-bedroom ranges from $800 to $1,250 a month, often without the inclusion of utilities.

“The CMHC does not necessarily give direction on how they come up with this, but we do know that they do surveys for private landlords across the area, and it is a voluntary survey,” she explained.

Since 2014, Grey County’s vacancy rate has continued to decline. In 2014 the vacancy rate was 4.3 per cent and steadily declined to one per cent in 2020. A healthy vacancy rate is considered to be four per cent, where rents are lower and there is supply to meet demand.

In an effort to provide housing at reasonable rates, Grey County provides affordable housing through 997 community housing units; 522 non-profit housing units; as well as rent supplements, which include:

“We look at options right across the continuum from emergency housing, transitional and supportive housing and affordable rentals. We are looking at providing services for our most vulnerable tenants of Grey County and also those that are in that lower-income bracket,” said Shaw.

In 2020, Grey County provided subsidies to 1,611 units of housing and 66 households were provided with provincial rent subsidies. An additional 582 people received funds for rental or utility arrears, last month's rent or moving expenses in the amount of $300,400.

Currently, 620 residents are on the waiting list for affordable housing in Grey County – including 23 residents in Markdale, 14 residents in Flesherton and 10 residents in Thornbury.

“I did also have a look at Collingwood, and there were six applicants on our waitlist that had Collingwood addresses,” Shaw said.

There are also 74 residents on the waiting list with no current address. According to Shaw, the average wait time for a unit is two to five years depending on the resident’s location.

Moving forward, Grey County has outlined an Affordable Housing Action Plan, which was created by the Affordable Housing Task Force in 2020.

The plan identified opportunities to create affordable housing through rent supplements, co-investments with non-profit housing organizations, and waiving fees and developing incentives through Community Improvement Plans (CIP).

“Maybe there are some policies that do not support affordable housing, such as low density and low height provisions, or maybe not preventing secondary units,” Shaw said.

“So when we look at our CIPs, we can look at some ideas such as a land bank, or waiving fees and incentives that may provide an opportunity for a private landlord to add some affordable housing units into their development.”

The county is also looking at a Durham Seniors Housing Opportunity, where staff are exploring the option of developing an affordable housing build as part of the campus of care model at the new long-term care site in Durham.

Grey County staff are also working with municipalities to identify lands that could be acquired or used for affordable housing builds through its land bank and or properties requiring renovation initiative.

In addition, the county has pinpointed a few sites that offer the opportunity for redevelopment into a mix of affordable and attainable housing. However, Shaw explained that the ability to bring these housing initiatives to fruition depends highly on the level of funding that is available.

“There is no good business case when it comes to building affordable housing. It's very difficult to make it work when it comes to that lower rent when you have a mortgage that you have to pay off. It's very difficult to find that extra funding in order to make it work,” she said.

In an effort to back its own housing projects, Grey County council approved the creation of an affordable housing fund that will see an annual one per cent levy contribution or $650,000.

Grey County also receives $500,000 annually from the federally- and provincially-funded Ontario Priorities Housing Initiative.

Following Shaw’s presentation, a number of county council members asked if the county’s programs were aggressive enough to handle the region’s growing housing crisis.

“We [the Town of the Blue Mountains] are working on our own attainable housing project here. But then we hear from people, what about affordable homes?” said Rob Potter, deputy mayor of TBM. “What about people that can't afford attainable housing? We have the need and I'm sure everybody does. We can't just talk about it anymore.”

Grey Highlands Deputy Mayor, Aakash Desai echoed Potter’s concerns.

“Since the start of this year, I've had two individuals who are seniors call me and say that they're unable to find housing. They've been evicted because their landlord wants to do renovations and so they've been given a notice,” he said. “Should we be looking at spending more? Should we be providing that if the private sector cannot come in?”

According to Shaw, Grey County has about 130 housing units under development that will be coming on board over the next two years. She said in order to create more, additional funding would be required.

“I agree totally with you that we could do more. But again, it's based on funding and opportunity,” she said.

Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca

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