Waiting lists reach record high as more households apply and fewer are housed
ONPHA’s 2014 Waiting Lists Survey found that more than 165,000 Ontario households are waiting for rent-geared-to-income (RGI) housing. That means that 6,623 (up 4.2 per cent) families, seniors, couples, and single adults joined waiting lists in 2013.
Wait times can vary from several months to almost 10 years, depending on the type of application and the local availability of RGI housing. In 2013, the average wait time across Ontario was 3.89 years, up from 3.2 years in 2012. Of all households, families faced the longest wait times, at an average of 4.14 years.
Explanations for waiting list increases
Rising housing costs, combined with a lack of affordable rental housing in certain communities, has put pressure on many households. While Ontario’s unemployment rate has decreased since 2009, the rise in part-time and precarious work has made it difficult for some families to afford basic necessities. As a result, one in every three rental households in Ontario lives in housing that is too small for their family size, too expensive, or badly in need of repair.
Another reason for the high waiting list totals is that households are staying in RGI housing for longer periods of time. This means that it takes longer for units to turn over, reducing the number of households that can be housed from the waiting lists each year. In 2013, the number of households housed from waiting lists dropped 3.5 per cent from 2012. The households that stay in RGI housing do so for the same economic reasons that drive new households to the waiting lists.
Waiting lists do not reflect all housing need
It is important to note that waiting lists for RGI housing provide only one measure of the need for affordable housing in Ontario. They contain only the households that know RGI housing is available, have chosen to apply despite potentially long wait times, and have maintained an active application. As a result, the number of households on waiting lists for RGI housing significantly underestimates the need for affordable housing in the province.
How service managers are responding
Communities across Ontario are taking action to address the rising need for affordable housing. The Regional Municipality of Peel and the City of Toronto have implemented different choice-based letting programs to better and more efficiently match waiting list applicants with vacancies. Other areas, including the City of Brantford, the Regional Municipality of Durham, the City of Peterborough, and the Regional Municipality of York have expressed interest in exploring a choice-based model for their own waiting lists.
Other areas have explored the option of establishing Housing Development Corporations, which create alternative financing and partnership mechanisms to build affordable housing. Some service managers have dedicated funding to increasing the number of shelter spaces for individuals facing homelessness, creating eviction-prevention programs to keep people housed, and pioneering advocacy campaigns to increase the amount of affordable rental housing and promote investment by senior levels of government.
The 165,069 households on waiting lists are some of the thousands of Ontarians who are struggling to afford housing in our province. To provide them with a safe and secure place to call home, permanent, dedicated funding from senior levels of government is required. While the federal and provincial governments’ recent renewal and expansion of the Investment in Affordable Housing program is a positive step, a longer term program and funding commitment is needed to address growing waiting lists.