POVERTY MATTERS: Affordable housing can make a big difference

The following blog post was first published as an article in InQuinte on February 14, 2018. Please find the original article here.

Affordable housing can make a big difference

What is affordable housing? It is in the name – it is housing that you can afford and it includes your home, rent or mortgage as well as utilities. Typically, you are considered to have affordable housing if you are spending 30% or less of your income on housing.

What does it mean in Hastings and Prince Edward counties to not have affordable housing? What does it mean to have affordable housing?

As of August, 2017 there were 805 seniors and 451 individuals on the wait list for social housing in Hastings County. Around 23 per cent of all families and households allocate over 30 per cent of their incomes to shelter costs across the two counties.

In a community with an almost 0 per cent vacancy rate for affordable housing and rising rental costs people are left choosing between food and rent, hydro and rent, and medications and rent.

Tami Downes explains the difference affordable housing has made in her life. Tami is a grandmother who is raising her grandchild, the vice-president of CANGRANDS, and a local advocate for affordable housing”

“I’ve been in housing (geared to income) now for three years. Prior to that though we lived for six years waiting on the list to get into housing. It was a struggle.

“I had to raise a granddaughter, she was, you know, needing food and shelter and all those things that we have to provide and it was difficult to provide those things and have to pay market rent.

“I received Ontario Works at the time for $700 or so plus her child tax credit and our rent was $920 a month. And, so, things didn’t get done so that the rent could get paid, so that we could have a roof over our head and food in our stomachs so I did an awful lot of laundry in the bathtub and hanging it around the apartment to dry it, using the food banks in order to make sure that, you know, lunches were made and dinners were made.”

Six years of waiting and struggle as Tami made the tough decisions that pitted food against shelter, and clothing against food.

Tami explained that it wasn’t only basic needs such as food and shelter that were affected by a lack of affordable housing but the sense of social inclusion and belonging.

“When you are waiting for your clothes to dry from coming out of the bathtub and you have to wear something that’s not quite what you want to wear that day, you go to school feeling badly about yourself. You go to school feeling badly because…she, her grandmother, cannot afford to buy a pair of shoes for her like her friends have so she gets bullied because she doesn’t have everything that every other kid has.”

Tami discussed the impact affordable housing has made on the lives of herself and her granddaughter.

“Three years ago we were finally granted affordable housing and we live in one of the largest buildings in Belleville in our area that houses most of the people in affordable housing, and, it’s not my first choice to live but it’s a place to live and I can afford it so we make it home, we make it what we need it to be. So we live in a nice home and it’s clean.

“Whether you’re a grandparent or a parent you need somewhere affordable to live. It makes a big difference in your day. I’m on Ontario Disability now which also makes a difference, it’s a little bit more money but still not enough to live on. We have more money for food so we don’t go to the food bank as often as we did.

“It makes a difference in just how you feel about yourself, too, when you can afford to live because if you can’t afford to live you’re under so much stress to have to provide for everything. So all around we live a better life now because we are in affordable housing, low income housing.”

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