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Forum addresses future of affordable housing

Vivian Chih, with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, chats with Ginny Pearsoll about affordable housing. The two attended Wednesday’s forum hosted by the Affordable Housing Working Group of Prince Edward County.

Good quality affordable housing needs and challenges for Prince Edward County were discussed at a forum this week.

“Local Challenges – Home Grown Solutions – The future of affordable housing in Prince Edward County forum was held at the Prince Edward County Community Centre Wednesday. Participants included community leaders, service providers, builders and others concerned about affordable housing. Speakers, from the Affordable Housing Working Group (AHWG), the County of Prince Edward, and Prince Edward – Lennox and Addington Social Services, discussed current trends related to housing affordability and supports for addressing local challenges.

The forum was co-sponsored by the Prince Edward County Affordable Housing Working Group (AHWG), and the Office of the Mayor.
Approximately 65 people attended to learn about accomplishments to date, the County’s responsibility in planning for affordable housing, the supports offered through the County and through the federal government, and to take part in discussion of local housing issues.

“This event brought local stakeholders together to collaboratively respond to the need for affordable housing in Prince Edward County,” noted Mayor Peter Mertens. “By discussing potential partnerships and identifying opportunities for collaboration, we can work toward solutions for affordability challenges in our communities.”

Affordable housing means housing that is available at a cost that does not compromise an individual’s ability to meet other basic needs. This can include social housing (subsidized by government), or rental housing provided through the private market or not-for-profit organizations, as well as home ownership. It can also include housing with supports to meet the particular needs of the people who live there.

The AHWG was formed in 2007 and brings together individuals concerned with the lack of affordable housing in Prince Edward County, including members of County Council, municipal staff, representatives of local service agencies and concerned citizens.

In its executive summary, the AHWG report outlines nine trends currently influencing the housing market in the County and issues that need to be addressed:

1. There is limited diversity in the supply of housing despite changing
demographics.
The population of the County is aging. Currently, 38% of the population is over 55 years old. By 2016 this proportion will represent nearly half the entire population. The aging population and current trends towards smaller households will necessitate diversification of the housing stock to meet the needs of these populations.

2. The age and condition of some older stock housing influences the quality of available housing One-third of homes in the County were built prior to 1946.The cost of maintaining and repairing older dwellings adds additional expense for housing owners and operators, especially in the case of senior home owners on fixed incomes. The age and condition of housing can have an impact on the level of rent charged and/or the
adequacy of the accommodations. Property owners may find greater value in converting or redeveloping older or lower quality units rather than maintaining them as rental units.

3. The County has experienced a loss of private rental housing
The stock of rental housing in Prince Edward County provides affordable
accommodations for a large proportion of household incomes. Since 2005, the County has seen a loss of nearly 40 rental units. Over the same period, just 1.5% of housing completions have been apartments units. A key reason for this decline is the conversion of rental units to affordable homeownership units. However, it is likely that rising house prices will serve as an incentive for investors to cash-in leading to further loss of rental stock.

4. There is a limited supply of social housing units in the area despite
sustained demand The social housing waiting list for Prince Edward County points to a need for affordable one-bedroom units for adults. The demand for these units exceeds the available supply to a greater extent than any other category. The wait time for these units is significant, with adults waiting an average of five years for a unit. In addition, wait times are also long for families, ranging from 2 to 4 years.

5. The rising cost of housing has eroded affordability in the local housing
market According to the Provincial definition of affordability, the average affordable house price in Prince Edward County is approximately $220,000 and the average affordable rent is approximately $656. According to this definition, approximately 45% of households cannot afford an average priced house in the County and 17% of households cannot afford average rents.

6. There is a lack of emergency housing options in the County, forcing those in need to seek assistance elsewhere. In general, those seeking emergency accommodations in Prince Edward County are directed outside the area for support. Over the years, some temporary emergency
accommodations have been provided in budget hotels but these accommodations are becoming more difficult to provide because of increasing tourism in the County. For the most part, agencies serving those in need of emergency accommodation in the County indicate that more affordable housing could alleviate some of the current need for emergency housing.

7. With the aging of the population, there is a limited supply of seniors
housing that provides support services. By 2036, 57% of the population of Prince Edward County is projected to be over the age of 55. An increasing number of seniors indicate a need for smaller and more easily maintained housing options. These options will need to be more accessible,
affordable and provide other supports to allow seniors to age in place. Supportive housing options are particularly important to providing for the changing needs of seniors in rural areas where distance can limit the availability of services and supports.

8. There is a limited supply of accessible housing in the County
There are currently only two accessible housing units in the County’s stock of 187 social housing units. With the aging population of the County, there will be an increasing need for more accessible housing options. Changes to legislation, such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, are going to increase requirements for the retrofit of existing housing units and the construction of new houses. These changes may limit the interest of landlords to maintain current rental units.

9. There is a lack of supportive housing options in the community to address those with special housing needs There is currently no dedicated supportive housing for persons with mental illness in Prince Edward County. Stakeholder consultations noted that a large proportion of
the single adults waiting for social housing units in Prince Edward County are persons with mental illness. The needs of this population go beyond affordable housing. This vulnerable population can be difficult to house in the absence of additional supports.

Recommended actions outlined in the report aimed at supporting and facilitating the development of affordable housing have been outlined under five broad strategic directions, including: Leadership and Co-ordination; Policy Development; Resources and Incentives; Education and Advocacy and Partnerships.

A Request for Proposals has been issued by the Prince Edward Lennox and Addington Social Services inviting professionals and qualified proponents to develop and increase affordable housing units with the project beginning in 2013. The RFP states the Service Manager has designated $697,491 as part of the investment in affordable housing for Ontario allocation. The successful proponenet(s) will be funded up to 75 per cent of the total capital cost or up to $150,000 per unit, whichever is less. RFPs must be submitted to the PELA Social Services by Jan. 18.

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