Team looks for housing solutions in South Georgian Bay area 0
A steady increase in house prices in South Georgian Bay has left many low-income families struggling to afford the basic need of housing.
“It's sad when you see both parents working and still struggle to put a roof over their family's head,” said Mike Borsa, board member for the Georgian Triangle Housing Resource Centre.
Borsa is also part of a team called the Housing Change Lab of South Georgian Bay, which is trying to change the perception, planning, and development of low-income housing.
The team have held ongoing meetings, both for the public and as a smaller leadership group to update each other on communication with developers and other members of the community. They held their last leadership meeting on July 12, and will have a public meeting on July 27 in the Collingwood Library from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.
“Housing is critical to any community,” said Borsa. “We hope to be the people who find attainable housing.”
As the area shifted from the shipyards to tourism, house prices reflected a wealthier demographic with many home buyers purchasing houses for retirement. House prices in Collingwood, Clearview and Wasaga Beach rose 14% from 2009 to 2011 according to the South Georgian Bay Regional Housing Needs Study. The rise in house prices has left many people unable to afford to buy a house, which is increasing the demand for rentals.
Borsa says vacancy rates for rental units are sometimes as low as 1%.
Gail Michalenko, executive director for the Georgian Triangle Housing Resource Centre, says that very little has been done in creating rental units since the 1970s. Some exceptions, she said, include the new building on St. Paul that filled a niche for rental accommodations; 32 units on High St. that the Town of Collingwood worked with a developer to create; working with the federal housing unit for opportunities for home ownership; and rent subsidies that help people live more comfortably.
“We have such a small vacancy rate that anything is welcome,” said Michalenko.
The shift to a tourism-based economy also provided less well-paying regular work.
“People who live here were working in secure employment situations with benefits and good wages. They are now often having to work in seasonal part-time work,” said Michalenko. “Not to say that in the tourism industry there are not opportunities for good jobs, there's just not a lot of it.”
Michalenko says some people are working multiple jobs and are still spending more than half of their income on shelter costs (rent, mortgage payments, property taxes, hydro). Economists recommend spending 30%.
“People who work here, who service this area, can't afford to live here, “ said Laurie Hunt, a consultant for the Change Lab project.
These industry changes have left an even stronger need for affordable housing in the area.
“We need to change the dialogue because we haven't done anything,” said Borsa.
Part of the change of dialogue is community awareness to the issue of housing and discussions with developers, builders and planners.
“There's no recognition in the community that there is a problem,” said Michalenko.
Hunt says there is a lack of awareness, but also a “Not in my backyard” mindset.
“There is a stigma related to housing,” said Hunt.
Hunt says people are hesitant to allow affordable housing in their neighbourhoods, and often don't see it as their problem.
“How do we change people's perception,” said Hunt. “It's everybody's problem, (we need) a community-based situation.”
The Change Lab seeks to find ways to act upon the housing situation in the South Georgian Bay area.
“Housing is a complex social problem. The process is to talk to people until we know the action,” said Hunt. “We don't know what the end result is yet.”
Hunt says the group is not looking for shovels in the ground, but instead defines their success through the connections they make.
These connections include more than 20 stake-holder-attended meetings, encouraging every level of government – municipal, provincial and federal – to attend meetings, finding interested builders, and receiving funding from Canadian Mortgage and Housing Centre for a future fundraiser.
The Housing Change Lab will continue making these connections.
“We're an evolving group,” said Borsa. “Part of the Change Lab is its fluidity.”