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Guelph needs more of this – Affordable housing

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In this unprecedented housing market I have been reflecting more and more on what it means for those who do not yet own a home. When we get together we love to talk about real estate.  Everyone has an opinion on it and most of the time I hear that things are getting too out of reach for the average buyer.  I agree.  Most Guelphites and first time buyers are quickly getting priced out of the town they live in and love.  They can’t afford to keep their kids in school here, they are looking to move further away from family, friends and work because they can’t find a place to call their own here.  Then I started to think a little more broadly; what is the knock-on effect of these high housing prices?  I asked Father John Borthwick to sit down and chat about those in our city that are most at risk in this unstable and unpredictable housing market.

Higher housing prices mean that fewer people are able to purchase a home and they must continue to rent, but rental prices must go up accordingly as investors are purchasing houses at an increased cost that cost is passed on to the renters.  The renters are then forced to spend more on housing and are unable to save for the required 5% downpayment thus they must continue to rent.  It becomes a vicious cycle.

Higher purchase and rental pricing has a huge knock-on effect such as: increased usage of community services like food banks, second hand stores, a marked increase in ready made meals at fast food restaurants as well as low cost, low nutrient boxed meals at grocery stores.  There are dozens, if not hundreds of studies done evaluating the effects of these types of diets on the development, physically mentally and emotionally, in young kids.  The basic result: long term negative effects.  Parents are forced to claw back on things like sports, music and dance lessons, family outings, cultural events and the like.  These unbelievably difficult choices have long term effects on families that contribute to generational poverty.

There is also a stigma associated with certain types of rental properties and the people that we assume that live there.  We have a real problem in Guelph with a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) mentality.  We all say that we want to help those who may be struggling find solutions to housing shortages but nobody seems to want co-op or social housing projects built in their neighborhoods.  But why do we have to have separate housing projects and buildings for those on social assistance?  Why can’t we have more integrated buildings like the Market Commons instead of the increasing ghettoization of communities based on income?

We need more and better long term solutions to the temporary nature of most rental units which increase a sense of insecurity. Short term solutions like couch surfing and unregulated apartments are particularly troublesome for those with mental health or addiction problems as the stress and anxiety of these situations can make every aspect of daily life more difficult including obtaining and/or maintaining employment. As John mentioned to me: “If someone can have permanent housing for an extended period of time every aspect of their life shows improvements.”

What would affordable housing mean to those who are currently struggling? It would mean security, prosperity, better health, less debt, a more positive outlook for themselves and their children.  What would it mean for the community?  More disposable income means less household debt, more commercial activity in the community means more economic growth, more active community members and a stronger more vibrant Guelph

There is undue pressure put on people to purchase a home.  Canada has one of the highest home ownership rates in the world.  Across Europe and Australia people often choose to rent long term, as in decades, in the same location.  In Canada we tend to see home rental as a short term solution and most renters see their rentals as an impermanent residence.  I realize as a realtor I should be espousing the virtues of homeownership, of which there are many, but perhaps the solution to more affordable housing requires a shift in cultural focus from homeownership to home affordability, attainability and security.  This shift in focus can mean a number of things including the option for more units under corporate ownership that would allow for more long term rental options and *gasp* affordable rates maybe even rent control attached to long term tenancy agreements.