• July 30, 2020
  • By Trina Fong
  • Comments Off on Lack of rental units a crisis
  • in Intelligencer News

Lack of rental units a crisis

Intelligencer File Photo Reta Sheppard, housing coordinator of the Hastings Housing Resource Centre, said availability of affordable housing in the Quinte region is "bad."
The Quinte region’s lack of homes available for rent remains at a crisis level, with both affordable and market-rent units in critically short supply.

“It’s bad,” said Reta Sheppard, the housing coordinator of the Hastings Housing Resource Centre, part of Youth Habilitation Quinte Inc.
The problem, she said, is mainly one of availability, not price – “but what’s out there is unaffordable.”
“We just listed a bachelor apartment for $850” per month, said Sheppard. She said rates in Trenton and Belleville are comparable. One-bedroom units are renting for $1,000 per month or more, she said; two-bedroom units range from about $1,100 plus utilities to as much as $1,500 inclusive.
“Trenton, as far as availability, is in more need than Belleville is. But Belleville’s bad, too,” Sheppard said.
“We need housing. We need housing that’s affordable. And I understand landlords have costs too, and I understand it’s not cheap for them to build.”
The rate of construction for rental housing has been declining since about the mid-1990s, said Rod Bovay, Belleville’s director of development and engineering services. He said provincial governments haven’t funded social housing to the degree they did a few decades ago, and Ontario also limits what landlords can charge so “the return just isn’t there to justify the investment.”
For renters, said Bovay, “the supply is constricted, which drives the price up.”
“When you combine it with the fact incomes in Belleville are generally below the provincial average, you have a situation where people finding rental accommodation that they can afford.”
Last spring, Hastings County hired Bridge Street United Church to survey homeless people in Belleville. The majority of the 100 people surveyed cited affordable rental rates, lack of available units and low incomes as their main challenges in finding housing.
At Gleaners Food Bank, operations director Susanne Quinlan’s frustration with housing costs boils over the moment the subject is mentioned.
“A major reason why we’re here is the cost of living – and that’s housing,” she said.
“Our clients are paying up to 75 to 90 per cent of their income for their rent and nobody seems to care.”
She challenged municipal election candidates to make a stand.
“This is something some of the candidates should be saying, not me.”
Quinlan said municipalities should require about 10 per cent of new housing developments to “be affordable for the working poor” and claimed lower-cost fixtures, for example, could lower the housing price.
“I don’t think that’s realistic at all,” said the city’s Bovay.
“It’s not really fair to pin it on the development community when there are so many other factors.”
No officials with the Quinte Home Builders’ Association could be reached Friday for comment.
Builders need to profit, Bovay said, and must be able to recoup costs of land and connecting lots to utilities.
Using cheaper fixtures wouldn’t lower the selling price enough to make a difference, Bovay added.
Yet he also said there are now about 400 rental units in various stages of construction in the city and
that comes after a virtual drought of about a decade.
“I think we’re making good progress. There’s a long way to go,” he said.
City council’s next update of its official plan will, as required by Ontario, have to include a policy on secondary suites. Some municipalities allow secondary apartments to be created within homes anywhere in the municipality; others limit them to certain neighbourhoods.
“There has to be a continuation of federal and provincial programs that support affordable housing.
“Those programs go a long way to help the supply of affordable housing units,” Bovay said.
The housing centre’s Reta Sheppard agreed there are some – but not enough – promising construction projects underway.
She said many people are scrambling to find somewhere to live.
“We probably see anywhere from eight to 12 a day,” Sheppard said.
“I would say 80 to 90 per cent of them are homeless or about to be homeless.
“They try to be proactive,” she said.
Sheppard said some clients start looking about a month before they need a new home but soon discover finding one is difficult, especially if the person has a poor credit rating as do some – but not all – of the centre clients.
Staff try to find temporary solutions, but they’ve lately been encouraging anyone with housing to try to stay put and resolve any issues with their current situation rather than try to find new accommodation.
Even professionals with good incomes are among those having trouble finding places, she said.
Sheppard said the solution to the lack of units may not necessarily rest with government, but action’s needed.
“At some point, somewhere, somebody’s got to step up.”