Creating and preserving healthy communities: the impact of community housing
It’s no secret that Ontario is facing an affordable housing shortage. Our province is home to eight of the top ten communities in core housing need nationwide[i]. Ottawa has just become the first city in Canada to officially declare a housing emergency. No doubt this motion will inspire other Ontario municipalities to follow suit, as many areas face similar housing pressures.
How does the housing crisis impact our communities?
Home ownership is out of reach for low- and often middle-income earners. As a result, these groups are forced to remain in the rental market, increasing pressure on the already inadequate rental housing supply. The market rates for rental housing rise in response, forcing many households to pay a greater percentage of their income on rent. Individuals and families that spend more than 30% of their income on housing are relying increasingly on food banks to fill the income gap.[ii] Many are forced to move to the outskirts of their cities and towns where rental pricing is lower. For these households, this creates longer commute times and decreases access to established social networks, childcare, social programs, and other supports.
Populations most vulnerable to a lack of housing include racialized groups, new Canadians, individuals living with mental health and addictions, single parents, and those receiving social assistance. Not only are individuals who fall into one or more of these categories more likely to earn lower incomes, they are also more likely to face housing discrimination[iii]. The housing pressures that cause many people to relocate often result in a loss of diversity in these communities.
Community housing’s role
A healthy, prosperous community housing sector works to address these issues by providing stable, affordable homes to low-income households. Community housing providers are responsible for developing the vast majority of Ontario’s purpose-built, below-market rate rental housing. This role is critical in smaller and rural population centres where rental housing is often limited.
Political discussions about the benefits of affordable housing often focus the overall cost-savings; the spending of public funds on housing is more than paid for by the savings incurred by the medical, justice and social service systems. Every $10 spent on housing and supports for those experiencing chronic homelessness, saves $21.72 in these areas.[iv] This is a critical point, but it glosses over the human element and the overall health and diversity of communities.
Households spending no more than one-third of their income on housing costs are more able to save for a down payment on a home, retirement, or to simply establish an emergency savings fund, creating a more stable base for economic success. They are also able to spend more in their local economies and rely less on social safety nets such as food banks.
In addition to purpose-built rental housing, many community housing providers have branched out and are starting to administer portable housing benefits. These rent supplement programs reduce social housing waitlist times and allow people to continue living in their homes. This helps prevent the issues associated with individuals and families being forced to leave their communities – namely, increased commute times and infrastructure use (roads and transit) and decreased access to support systems.
Community housing providers also have a role to play in preserving diversity in population centres. Communities that include people of different backgrounds, abilities, income levels and family structures tend to be more inclusive and welcoming, and are more likely to support a wide variety of locally-owned businesses.
The role of community housing
in Ontario is crucial. The sector works to ensure that low-income individuals,
families and marginalized populations have access to housing and by doing so,
ensures the health and diversity of Ontario’s towns and cities.
Want to learn more?
Check out ONPHA’s Affordable Housing Plan for Ontario (co-authored with the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada – Ontario Region) to learn more about how increased funding for community housing can benefit our province.
Visit the Canadian Rental Housing Index online and see how your community stacks up in terms of rental affordability.
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[iv] Dutton, D. J. et al. (2018). Effect of provincial spending on social services and health care on health outcomes in Canada: an observational longitudinal study. CMAJ Journal, 190(3), 66-71.