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Vital Signs 2018 shows a complicated snapshot of life in Prince Edward County


Story and photo by Sharon Harrison
A snapshot of the Prince Edward County community showing its ‘Vital Signs’ points to the need for awareness of community successes and challenges and what is needed to address them.

The County Foundation released findings of its second report before a full house last week at St. Andrew’s Church in Picton.

Its vision is to improve the lives of present and future generations in the County by working together to build a place where people can reside, work and participate.

The report covers housing, employment, health and safety, food insecurity, education, transportation and people, place and culture as well as sense of belonging.

“The intent and focus is around action, but obviously the first step in this is around public awareness around the issues and the conversations about that,” said Brian Beiles, the foundation’s president. “The purpose of the report is to identify priorities, involve the community and hopefully this report will engage the community more broadly than in (the first report in) 2013,” he said.

Mayor Quaiff acknowledged and thanked the working groups, community organizations and individuals who stepped up and worked tirelessly on the report.

“They deserve recognition for making a difference and for stepping up to the challenge,” he said, noting that progress had been made in several key areas, but the Vital Signs 2018 Report shows that more needs to be done. “The challenges and opportunities arise quickly in our community, they have to be ready to respond,” he said.

“It’s no secret the County right now is in a period of rapid change,” said Beiles. “Good things are happening, but at what cost?… “We need to build a community of shared prosperity were everyone feels they belong.”

A registered charity, The County Foundation was formed in 2008 and is one of 191 community foundations across Canada that have collective assets of more than $5 billion. Its mandate is to provide a strong and vibrant Prince Edward County by encouraging community-oriented philanthropy; making and managing grants that build community strength; conducting research to identify fact-based community needs and leading collaborative action to address those needs.

The report shows the County’s population has dropped by 2.1 per cent since 2011 and according to the 2016 Census sits at 24,735. The median age (median meaning half the population are above median and half are below) is 54.5 years. This is up 2.9 years from 2011. The provincial median age is 41.3 years.

The County’s aging population trend continues. In the population, 29.8 per cent are over 65 years of age, 58.6 per cent are aged 15 to 64 and 11.6 per cent are under 14. It was noted the population increases significantly in summer with visitors, seasonal workers, returning snowbirds and seasonal residents.

Beiles stated the population density in the County is 23.5 people per square kilometre. As a comparison, Toronto has 4,334 people per square kilometre.

It was acknowledged Prince Edward County’s population mix is woven with immigrants from all over the world, and 98 per cent speak English at home. Visible minorities accounted for 2.2 per cent although it was noted that since the 2016 Census, the County is becoming more diverse. Up by 12 per cent since 2011, 690 residents identified as Indigenous.

The report identified the County as a place that welcomes everyone and as a place with simple living, and surprising complexity.

On the subject of housing, the report noted that house prices have almost doubled in the last 10 years in the County, more than seven times the increase in median household income. The median house price in 2018 was $395,000, compared to $205,000 in 2008. By comparison, Bellevile and Quinte West came in at around $100,000 less.

Beiles asked, “What are the implications?”

Many people are moving away in order to find attainable housing with low income earners, seniors and young families excluded from buying homes. If rents follow house prices, homelessness will increase, the report states.

Beiles explained that the term “attainable” is used to describe “affordable” and “available” housing.

The report touched on the growing trend of short-term accommodations (STAs), noting 17 per cent of private dwellings are not occupied by usual residents, compared to eight per cent provincially.

The registered rental vacancy rate in Prince Edward County is 0.8 percent, which Beiles calls virtually zero.

He noted having no vacancies and rental costs that are increasing 40 per cent faster than household income poses a serious problem for the large number of minimum wage earners here, as well as for seniors on fixed incomes.

Homelessness does exist in the County.

A 2018 report on homelessness in the region cited abuse or conflict with a partner or parent/guardian. Many had addiction or mental health issues and most had no family support. The average period of homelessness is 185 days and several children were among those counted. Many in the report were in employment, but could not afford accommodation with almost half saying a job loss or inability to pay rent or mortgage had led to their situation.

The report showed the County has 115 social housing units, 129 non-profit housing units and 42 rent supplement units, but noted that there are 230 households on the waiting list – most were waiting for a social housing one-bedroom unit which has an average wait time of six years.

“There is significantly limited rental stock,” said Beiles, reminding the group there are more than 1,000 short-term rentals in Prince Edward County.

Beiles spoke to a new housing development in Picton which includes seven affordable rental units at 80 per cent of average market rental. As well, he touched on an attainable housing initiative at the old arena site in Wellington.

Home ownership has historically been high in the County and there has never been a high stock of rental units. 83.1 per cent of homes in PEC are owned (provincially the figure is 69.7 per cent), and 16.9 per cent are renters (31.3 per cent provincially).

Some conversion of long-term rental units to short-stay vacation properties is also depleting residential rental stock. The average monthly market rent for a two-bedroomed apartment is $1,187.

“Another significant fact is 48.6 per cent of renters are paying more than 30 per cent of their household income on housing,” said Beiles. Many pay significantly more. “Thirty per cent is basically the affordability threshold by which people can’t really afford to be.”

Job growth in Prince Edward County rose 9.2 per cent between 2013 and 2017. Provincially it grew 5.2 per cent and nationally rose five per cent.

There was a 60.6 per cent growth in registered businesses from 2013 to 2017, and a 104.5 per cent growth in self-employed businesses – that’s 1,096 new self-employed business in PEC in just four years. The County’s economy has always been driven by small business and entrepreneurs.

Business Retention and Expansion surveys conducted in 2016 and 2017 showed employers face difficulties with a local workforce lacking applicable skills, training for employees were difficult to source and potential employees could not afford to live here.

“In many cases, employees are having to come in from Belleville and Trenton,” said Beiles.

Workers faced difficulties too and it was noted that more than 50 per cent worked only part-time or seasonally. They also cited lack of public transportation and affordable housing.

Prince Edward County is attracting many niche businesses such as specialty food producers, micro breweries, wellness practitioners and so on.

It was noted that agriculture is a pillar of the County’s economy, but it is changing. The median age of farmers is 56.4 years (up from 54.8 in 2011) and there are just 432 farms (compared to 477 in 2011) and 660 farm operations (down from 710 in 2011) in the County.

Of concern was the lack of tradespeople, electricians, plumbers and builders who are aging and just 8.6 per cent of youth are entering the trades.

Median household income after tax in the County is $59,259 (up from $52,824 in 2010). In Ontario, median household income after tax is $65,285. While it was noted median income has increased, house prices, hydro and food have increased significantly more.

The prevalence of low income is defined as less than 50 per cent of median household income after tax. In the 18 to 64 years category, 14.2 per cent of people in the County were considered low income and in the 65-plus category, 10.4 per cent were considered low income – a figure which has almost doubled since 2010.

Obesity rates in Hastings and Prince Edward Counties (HPE) is 34.5 per cent (up from 24.2 per cent in 2011). The provincial average is 26.2 per cent. Smoking rates in HPE are 24 per cent (down from 30.3 per cent in 2011), but are still higher than the provincial figure of 16.7 per cent.

When asked about mental health and whether people felt it was very good or excellent, 66.1 per cent surveyed said it was very good (down from 70.6 per cent in 2008). In the seniors category age 65-plus, 69.7 per cent said their mental health was very good (down from 73.1 per cent in 2008).

In Community Conversations, safety was not high on the list of concerns, but pedestrian safety was. Overall, crime is down and most reported feeling safe.

It was established that food insecurity is also a serious social and public health problem.

“The definition of food security is having reliable access to an adequate supply of affordable and nutritious food,” said Beiles. “So food insecurity is the opposite of that.”

“It is estimated that 10 per cent of households in our community are food insecure,” he said. “In the County, it translates to about 2,000 people may be food insecure.” The reasons outlined for food insecurity included limited income, the high cost housing and a lack of transportation.

Getting around continues to be a major obstacle for some with 91.6 per cent of people in PEC relying on private transportation, either as a driver or a passenger. Only one per cent uses public transportation, mainly because of the limited scope of which is currently available. The need to expand transit services to all residents in this rural community has been an increasing concern.

The lack of transportation is an obstacle to obtaining employment, completing education, staying socially connected, obtaining fresh food and generally being involved in the life of the community.

In the life satisfaction category, 90.5 per cent feel satisfied in their life (the provincial figure is 92.9 per cent). But despite the level of life satisfaction, the sense of belonging is declining.

In the overall category, 71 per cent reported feeling a strong sense of belonging (down from 77.6 per cent in 2008). In the seniors 65-plus category, 72.2 per cent feel a strong sense of belonging (down from 83 per cent in 2008).
The report describes feeling that you belong is important to seeing value in life. When people are connected and care about each other, they develop trust. And trust unlocks collaboration, sharing, support, hope, safety and more.

Overall, “we are really proud of what we have achieved,” said Beiles.

The data contained in the report was drawn from numerous sources at the municipal, provincial and national level, as well as a wide variety of studies conducted by community and regional organizations.

The next step is a call to action where the public is encouraged to share the report with others, discuss the information, consider the possibilities, become part of the solution, contemplate different and creative approaches and make a difference by initiating action.

The 2013 report, a 2015 progress report, and the 2018 PEC Vital Signs reports are available at thecountyfoundation.ca

The 2018 report below:

Vital Signs 2018 Report

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  1. Jim McMillan says:

    You can’t manage without measurements.

    Great job Brian

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