High costs for rentals and low vacancy rates are problems that predate the coronavirus pandemic in Peterborough.
But the ongoing pandemic is appearing to make affordability even tougher.
“Certainly the pandemic hasn’t helped any of that with people’s incomes less steady,” said Kirsten Armbrust, executive director of Community Counselling Resource Centre (CCRC).
CCRC offers one-time financial assistance as well as counselling for those who are facing eviction.
Lately, it’s seeing more people coming in with larger rent payment arrears.
“We’re seeing people with rental arrears in amounts we’ve never seen before. It’s not uncommon for someone to come in with arrears of $8,000 to $10,000,” Armbrust said. “That’s a staggering amount to get your way out of.”
Armbrust said there could be a number of reasons for this, including the eviction moratorium during the early days of the pandemic in the spring.
“Some people could be catching up from that. That’s not the case anymore. Evictions are going through now, although the Landlord and Tenant Board is backed up and we haven’t seen the full effect from that,” she said.
CCRC is also seeing a change in the demographics of those coming in, including some who may have had job stability before the pandemic.
“These are people who had stable jobs and housing and with the pandemic, this has changed. They’re coming in and it’s purely income. This is in addition to those we would see normally at this time of year (including seasonal workers),” Armbrust said.
The latest numbers from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) are from October 2019.
At that point, vacancy rates in the city were about two per cent.
Officials with the City of Peterborough say it’s likely still about that now.
In the fall, United Way Peterborough and District released its 2020 Housing is Fundamental report.
It identified the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment in Peterborough to be about $1,104, or roughly 23 per cent more than it was a decade ago.
The report states the required annual wage in 2019 to afford a two-bedroom apartment is $44,160.
“Certainly, we know income hasn’t kept pace with that kind of rate,” said Jim Russell, United Way Peterborough and District chief executive officer.
Russell said the pandemic has exacerbated the issue.
“I’m concerned in the coming months for those who received the CERB and did not save the money they needed to pay their taxes back,” he said. “I’m worried that February, March and April, where low-income people, who normally get a bump because of their tax return, will be in a situation will need to pay that back.”
Russell noted there needs to be more talk about a basic income over the minimum wage.
Meanwhile, the City of Peterborough continues to chip away at adding affordable housing units.
It applied for funding for a 10-unit project on Monaghan Road at the end of December.
According to the federal government, an announcement on funding should be made by the end of March for the projects that would be built within the calendar year.
But that’s not the only project that’s up for possible approval in Peterborough.
“We have two other projects that we’ll go to council with that we are seeking approval for funding for,” said city housing manager Rebecca Morgan Quin.
“Those are attached to funding that would be required to have those units built in 2021. So that’s about 20 units that could be built in 2021 if all things go smoothly and we’re approved for funding.”
Morgan Quin advises tenants who are in arrears to seek assistance immediately from the CCRC or the city’s social services division, if they’re on social assistance.
“When we see people with levels of arrears (as high as $10,000), we’re not looking to preserve, we’re looking to set up a new tenancy but that’s not easy when they’re coming out of a difficult situation.”