Safe and affordable housing is a priority for all members of our community and something that is so often taken for granted. With a good supply of single family homes on the market and the apartment vacancy rate at a comfortable 3.30% (CMHC Fall, 2014), one would think it is not hard to find a suitable place to live. Unfortunately for many Londoners, what is available is not accessible or not appropriate due to size, location and most often, the cost. In London, over 45% of tenant households are paying over 30% of their gross income for rent, almost 10% are paying 50% of their gross income. With the ever increasing cost of utilities, real housing costs are increasing greater than wages and income supports. In 2010, the City of London Housing Strategy identified a target of 1,000 new affordable housing units in the next 5 years. We are approaching the end of that cycle and while excellent progress has been made to reach that target, the number of families on the local Housing Registry Wait List is not declining and remains above 2,000. Other segments are particularly hard hit. As reported in this year’s Vital Signs Report, in 2011 the overall poverty rate was 11.6%; that’s 31.8% higher than the national average. Furthermore, there is a monthly average of 10,500 Ontario Works caseloads in London, confirming the daily challenge that so many Londoners face.
There are some encouraging signs that new funding and resources will make more affordable housing available and hopefully improve on the current situation. The Homelessness Prevention & Housing Plan 2010 - 2024 was approved by London City Council in November, 2013 and outlines a broad ranging strategy to reduce the numbers of individuals and families becoming homeless, improve the stability of housing, reduce wait times and increase the supply of affordable rental units. More recently, in the last meeting of the current City Council, the creation of a Housing Development Corporation for the City was approved. This arm’s length entity will allow the City to secure land for new housing, create partnerships for new developments and pursue different and innovative financing to upgrade and expand the City’s supply of affordable housing. Assisting the City to meet its goals is new federal and provincial funding. The Investment in Affordable Housing Extension program was announced by the Province of Ontario on August 11, 2014 and confirmed that over $800 million new capital dollars will be available between 2014 and 2019 to assist the development of new rental housing and other programming that improves the supply and affordability of housing. When combined with the funds the City of London has set aside, this new funding should provide London the financial resources to accomplish the goals that have been set out.
Critical to the success, however, is the co-operation of the non-profit and private sector developers that will build and manage the new housing. To achieve true affordable rents, all projects need to have owner equity and affordable debt to complement the government funding. London Community Foundation has created an innovative Loan Fund that is available to developers of affordable housing in London and Middlesex County. The program offers low interest loans that help fill the financing gaps and allow good projects from good proponents become reality. For London as a community to achieve its housing goals and improve the availability of safe, secure and affordable housing, a strong partnership of governments, community groups and financiers is needed and the London Community Foundation looks forward to playing an important role.
45% of renters and 18% of homeowners spent more than 30% of their income on housing costs in 2011, putting them in financial stress. (Ontario Non-profit Housing Association)
Gregory Playford is the president and owner of Devonshire Financial (London) Inc. and board member of Homes Unlimited (London) Inc.