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A step ahead, but more work needed

Affordable housing project is celebrated during recent announcement, but highlights need for more resources

Many politicians and advocates turned out to celebrate the grand opening of the Ritson Residence, which features 75 affordable housing units, including 29 accessible units for seniors. (Photo by Dave Flaherty)

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

The official unveiling of Oshawa’s Ritson Residence is a victory in the uphill battle to address Durham’s affordable housing needs but more work is still needed.

Representatives from all governments came together at the residence, open for more than a year – a result of $44 million of federal and provincial funding to build 358 affordable housing units in the region.

Ritson Residence, located at 1658 Ritson Road North in Oshawa, features 75 apartments, including 29 accessible units for seniors and people living with disabilities.

Government monies supported 62 of those units.

Durham Liberal MPP Granville Anderson said Ritson Residence is an example of his government’s commitment to creating more affordable housing, enhancing the province’s current stock and ending homelessness.

“Places like this one and seven other exceptional facilities we are highlighting today are helping to reach our goal,” Anderson says. “Several of the projects we are funding provide affordable homes for seniors and people with disabilities, and many include accessible units and features for those who need it.”

Anderson says the Liberal government has committed $5 billion towards affordable housing since 2003, calling it the “largest” investment in the history of the province.

“People of Durham have seen the result of this investment. Since 2003, about 500 new affordable housing units have been created and almost 2,000 units have been repaired,” he notes. “Working with our federal and municipal partners, we’re transforming Ontario’s social housing and affordable housing system to one that is based on client choice, so people can live as independently as possible in their community.”

Tim Neeb is the president of Mahogany Management, builder of Ritson Residence.

“This is a high-quality building and a high-quality neighbourhood, and it is affordable housing,” he says.

According to Neeb, the average rent of a one-bedroom apartment in Oshawa is $1,193, and prices are increasing in the city at a higher rate than the GTA average.

“How are people to afford that, how are seniors to afford that, how are people with disabilities to afford that,” he asked.

Neeb credited the federal and provincial government for providing funding for affordable housing and mandating builders to provide affordable housing at 80 per cent of market value rent.

“I’m actually happy to tell you at Ritson Residence we beat that, and we were able to provide this high-quality apartment building to our tenants at 70 per cent of that average market rent.”

A year ago, the Liberals introduced the Ontario Fair Tenants Act, which extended rent control to all units in the province, closing a previous loophole that allowed unlimited increases to units built after Nov. 1, 1991.

Annual rent increases cannot be higher than the rate of inflation and are capped at 2.5 per cent, even if inflation exceeds that figure.

“Our government is committed to maintaining to rent control. I know that [Conservative leader Doug Ford] has said he will scrap rent control,” Anderson says.

Oshawa Councillor Dan Carter, who also serves as the president of Durham Region’s Non-profit Housing Corporation, says while the $44 million investment to create 358 affordable housing units is a great achievement, there is more to do.

“I appreciate the investment made here in Durham Region. I want to see more money put into it, but we have to remember the capacity to build and the types of facilities that we are going to build,” Carter says.

To Carter, regional government has an important role to play as well.

“I think we have to be part of the solution and a lot more aggressive. My biggest thing is, as we build, let’s build the right kind of facilities. Let’s create environments that promote healthy living and not just house people.”

A landlord himself, Carter says rent prices are part of a bigger conversation that needs to take place.

“We have to look at what is called the guaranteed income and what people are needing to live properly in safe housing, in good, healthy communities, ” Carter says. “When we only give someone $800 a month, and they have to pay $360 for rent a month if they are lucky enough to be in a subsidized unit, we are not giving them enough money to live.”

As reported earlier by The Oshawa Express, there are currently about 6,000 people waiting to get into one of Durham’s 4,400 rent geared to income (RGI) units.

In 2016, on average, single non-seniors were looking at almost eight years (95 months) before they can expect to get into a rental unit.

For families, the wait is more than six-and-a-half years (79 months), while the delay to get a unit for seniors is five-and-a-half years (68 months).

Canada’s first-ever national housing strategy was unveiled by the Trudeau government last fall.

The 10-year plan calls for an investment of $40 billion in housing. This includes $4.3 billion to build 100,000 new affordable housing units and upgrades for 300,000 existing units.

So far, few details are available on specific timelines and locations.