By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
It’s a long wait for affordable housing in Durham Region, and the wait doesn’t look to be getting shorter any time soon.
Currently, there are around 6,100 households waiting to move into one of the 4,480 rent geared to income (RGI) housing units in Durham Region, In 2016, on average, single non-seniors were looking at almost eight years (95 months) before they were expected 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).
John Connolly, director of housing for Durham Region, says it’s likely going to get worse before it gets better.
The specific amount of time that someone waits for an RGI unit is based upon two factors, when they apply and what type of unit they are seeking.
Last year, there was very little turnover, with only 300 unit becoming available, which Connolly says barely puts a dent in the waiting list.
In 2011, the Ontario government made changes the Housing Services Act, which deemed certain people on waiting lists for RGI units should be treated as special priority.
Connolly says these are mostly victims of violence or people with severe health issues due to their current living conditions.
“Basically anyone in that situation needs to get out immediately,” Connolly says.
While Connolly says he and the region support this initiative, it has created “a waiting list within a waiting list”.
The province has discussed expanding special priority designations and Connolly says this will cause even longer waiting times.
Another factor in the ever-increasing waiting lists is the so-called “1991 rent loophole”.
In 1996, the then-Conservative government introduced Bill 96, which effectively created a clause in Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act that states only buildings built or first occupied residentially before Nov. 1, 1991, are subject to the province’s rent control standards.
These standards state that landlords can only increase rent by 1.5 per cent year-to-year.
However, landlords in buildings built after Nov. 1, 1991, are currently afforded unlimited yearly rental increases.
Because of this, Connolly says many people who were living in RGI units became less likely to move to newer buildings to avoid significantly higher rents.
Approximately 70 per cent of households on the waiting list currently reside in Durham Region.
Oshawa residents have the highest representation on the list at 33 per cent, followed by 18 per cent in Toronto, 13 per cent in Whitby, 10 per cent in Ajax and six per cent in both Clarington and Pickering.
“The need is everywhere, whether rural or urban,” Connolly says.
He explained that the majority people waiting for a unit want to live in Ajax, Pickering, and Whitby.
On the other hand, he noted there are a lot of seniors who want to leave an urban area and settle down in a quieter, more rural area as well.
As far as what can be done to cut down wait times, Connolly says it needs to be a focus of all levels of government.
He says while it is easy to get wrapped up in waiting list numbers, it all a part of a bigger problem.
“We don’t have enough affordable rental units [in Durham Region].”
To address this issue, the region established the Affordable and Seniors Housing Task Force with the goal of identifying strategies to support the development of affordable housing options in Durham Region.
The task force consists of Regional Chair Roger Anderson and 10 other councillors representing each of Durham’s lower-tier municipalities.
Oshawa councillor Dan Carter, who is also president of the Durham Region Non-Profit Housing Corporation, says the task force has had numerous discussions with representatives from the housing sector, such as developers, landlords, and private and non-profit housing providers.
Carter says it was important to have these people at the table when discussing the future of housing.
“As [local] government, we are not experts on housing,” he says.
A final report from the task force is expected to be presented to regional council this fall.
However, Carter says it shouldn’t just be a “status report”.
“It needs to put pieces in place,” Carter says, adding the region as a whole needs to change how it looks at housing.
“We can no longer think of housing just as a place just to put people,” he says.
Carter says housing must be seen as part of the larger community, with a focus on access to health care, education and employment opportunities.
Connolly says it remains to be seen what actions the provincial and federal governments will take to assist in the process.
“We are hoping there is more money. We are waiting on the upper-tier governments,” he stated.