Crisis to catastrophe? Collingwood affordable-housing advocate paints grim picture

The affordable-housing situation in Collingwood and the south Georgian Bay region is looking grim, as the number of people who need a place to live is quickly outpacing the number of units available.

“If we have a crisis today, we have a catastrophe tomorrow,” Marg Scheben-Edey, a member of the town’s affordable-housing task force, told council’s strategic initiatives committee Sept. 7.

The task force will be reporting to council later this year with recommendations to address the need for affordable housing, based on data and research by the task force’s three subcommittees focused on policy, property, and financing and funding.

The committee is currently reviewing a first draft from its consultants on that research.

“It’s shocking to see all the numbers there in black and white,” she said. “What’s really clear is that any solutions (to create affordable housing) have to incorporate partnerships with all sectors in order to create a common vision of affordable housing, both rental and ownership.

“It’s also very clear that we as a municipality have a very strong, vested interest and need to be invested in the vision to accomplish anything going forward.”

An Ottawa study found that for every unit of affordable housing created, seven were lost — an experience Scheben-Edey said was being seen locally.

A lot of that is to do with market conditions, Scheben-Edey said, as property owners sell to take advantage of the hot market, or drastically increase the rent if a tenant leaves.

“Tenants are being displaced at a phenomenal rate,” she said. “It’s really evident from the public input that we are rapidly losing more affordable-housing units than we could possibly create.”

This has a ripple effect through the economy, as the workers needed in the community in the future won’t be able to afford to live here, she said, adding the housing needed for those workers “doesn’t include the backlog and the erosion that we are currently experiencing.”

Scheben-Edey is also the chairperson of an ad hoc task force associated with the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness and focused on the south Georgian Bay area.

That committee has conducted a survey that has drawn more than 400 responses. It asked respondents about their challenges in finding affordable housing in the region, and the responses were both gripping and heart-rending, Scheben-Edey said.

When the survey asked respondents what their options were, the No. 1 response was to move out of the area, as whatever employment was offered locally was not enough to pay the bills — especially rent.

Scheben-Edey said one respondent was in so much despair about their housing predicament that they were considering suicide.

Reading from the comment, Scheben-Edey said the person was facing options of “debt, working three jobs, or moving my family to a one-bedroom apartment.”

Even some business owners are considering closing, or moving elsewhere, she said, because the housing situation is causing a labour shortage.