The federal government released its ambitious $40-billion national housing strategy on Wednesday, and in Peterborough, several support agencies gathered to host a summit to address the situation locally.
“The fact that we can provide safe, decent and affordable housing for people, I believe, is a life-changer,” said deputy mayor and former housing chair Henry Clarke. “You can face almost any storm if you have a place to call home.”
The City of Peterborough, along with agencies like the Affordable Housing Action Committee and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation were leading the discussion at the Mount Community centre which looked at “how housing helps.”
Several speakers addressed the housing needs in Peterborough — some concerns which are unique to the region while others are shared in communities across the province — like the need for greater government subsidies to those who can’t afford rent.
City officials shared some startling numbers locally, which showed that Peterborough has a one per cent vacancy rate, which is driving up the price of the average rent, while many can’t afford the increasing costs.
“We have the benefit of being able to have a glimpse and a little more information about the national housing strategy today, and so we are really happy to have the federal government come back to the table on housing,” said Rebecca Morgan Quin, manager of housing with the City of Peterborough.
Advocates here say there’s an ongoing housing crisis in Peterborough. They say the rent is increasing because of the competition, while officials at city hall say nearly 53 per cent of renters are considered to be living in unaffordable housing conditions — meaning that more than 30 per cent of their income goes towards rent.
“Some of our more vulnerable populations are finding it harder and harder to secure rental units and so we are seeing that our shelters are at or over capacity,” said Morgan Quin.
The federal government plans to dish out rent subsidies, including $2,500 a year to those who qualify beginning in 2020, but meanwhile, the Mount Community Centre which currently has more than 40 new affordable units is looking to the private sector to help build additional units to meet the growing community need.
“People need an income that allows them to sustain themselves but we also need access to units that suit the needs of a variety of folks, including a growing number of people who are without homes at all,” said Mount board member John Martyn. “We’re pleased with the way the first year has gone and we are now just preparing to build our next 15 units.”
The Mount is looking to raise $4 million to help fund the construction project, meanwhile, city council has set aside an additional $300,000 in this year’s budget, on top of the $10 million it will spend in 2018 to help address the housing crisis.