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Affordable housing a key issue in Durham

Young people face increasing challenges

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

More than 66 per cent of respondents to a housing survey from the region have identified affordable housing as a key issue.

The region recently released the sixth addition to a series of surveys for Envision Durham titled the Housing Policy Planning Discussion Paper. It was the final survey in the series meant to help the region determine what residents believe are important issues.

Mike Blake, a senior planner for Envision Durham, was recently in front of the planning and economic development committee explaining the findings of the survey, and what they mean.

He explained while most houses in Durham are not rented out, renters often struggle to make ends meet in Durham.

“In 2018 average market rent was $1,223, and the average price of a resale home was almost $600,000,” he said. “It’s important to highlight that in Durham, over half of renters spend over 30 per cent of income on shelter costs, which is generally regarded as the measure for affordable housing.”

According to Blake, the Durham Regional Official Plan already requires 25 per cent of new residential units to be affordable to low and moderate-income households.

“Durham has traditionally been one of the most affordable places to live in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA), however home prices have become a concern for many households in recent years,” said Blake.

Within the GTHA, the price of a single detached home is highest in Toronto, while Durham and Hamilton have the most affordable markets, according to Blake.

“In the last five years, housing affordability has decreased significantly. In 2018, only 24 per cent of new residential units were considered affordable, compared to 51 per cent in 2014,” he explained.

Blake also noted rents have increased across Durham.

“When supply is low and demand is high, prices tend to increase.”

He pointed out vacancy rates in Durham are under three per cent, and with the supply so low and demand high, monthly rents have increased significantly, as the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is now $1,500.

“In 2018, according to the regional official plan definition, average market rent was considered affordable,” he said. “Of the 818 rental listings surveyed last year, only 14 per cent of those were affordable.”

Blake pointed out affordability varies from person to person, and depends on individual circumstance.

He said not everyone can afford to pay market rent, noting a person making minimum wage and working 40 hours per week would ideally be paying $728 in rent.

However, he recognized the definition of affordable housing does not apply to everyone, but it is a useful tool to monitor the changes in affordability over time.

There was still some confusion among committee members about what qualifies as affordable housing.

One such committee member was Oshawa’s Ward 4 city and regional councillor Rick Kerr.

“I live in a municipality that has 51 per cent haves and 49 per cent have nots, so the definition of affordable housing I think is greatly different for Oshawa than it might be for a municipality with 85 per cent haves, and 15 per cent have nots,” said Kerr.

He also wondered if affordable housing is dependent on an area’s average income.

“Obviously when we talk about 30 per cent of income on shelter costs, if you make more money, you can afford more home,” said Blake. “It’s definitely a concern that we make sure everyone in all of our communities have affordable housing.”

Kerr also wondered if they determined these statistics by assuming there is one person to an apartment.

“We didn’t look at it in terms of apartments by size. We did look at the one bedroom apartment specifically, and then of course two bedroom, three bedroom apartments would cost a lot more,” explained Blake. “So, if you’re a single parent with children, obviously they’re going to need more home and that’s going to be more expensive, and it will be more difficult for them to find affordable housing.”

Kerr then reflected upon his past, and how he was able to gain housing when he was young.

“So, when I was a young fellow… to get ahead, you might get three or four guys that would rent a house, because then they could split up the rent and it was affordable,” he explained. “I’m not sure that’s as tenable a situation for people today. They seem to want to live in their parents house and become cellar dwellers because the job market is tough in terms of full-time employment… and therefore so is home ownership for young people.”

Kerr then wondered if the region will look to stimulate not only affordable rentals, but also affordable housing for young people. He wanted to know if the region could provide developers with incentives to build houses with self-contained apartments.

Blake explained the province has recently mandated developers cannot receive development charges for a second unit on new homes, but the region will have to flush it out, and expand on it.

Kerr pressed on however, noting he knows of a developer trying to circumvent development charges by waiting until the new law comes into effect.

“He’s going to build the houses, then wait a year, then build the self-contained apartment so he doesn’t have to pay the development charges,” he explained. “That means there’s a year where somebody could have been renting, and it’s not available until a year later. I’m just wondering, rather than that charade…, with the appropriate adjustments in driveways and parking and so forth, is there not a way we can encourage that kind of housing in order to increase the availability of both affordable rental units and affordable houses for younger buyers?”

Blake answered by noting this is something staff will be looking at in their next development charge background study.

The discussion paper will be discussed at the next regional council meeting.