Motion supports housing strategy

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(Photo by Jody Waardenburg)

Regional council is set to take a renewed look at affordable housing across its cities — and across the country.

Last week at the regional council meeting, Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr put forth a proposal in support of a campaign by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities called Fixing Canada’s Housing Crunch. It will be voted on by council today. FCM is pushing for a long-term federal housing plan and the continuation of existing funds that are soon set to expire.

Explaining some of the motivation for the campaign, Waterloo Region chair Ken Seiling explained, “Some of the federal programs are expiring in the next few years and there’s no indication that the federal government is going to reinvest that money back into housing. And the result of that will be a major loss of funding for the building of affordable housing.”

It’s a problem that could impact communities across Canada, including those in Waterloo Region.

“I think it’s fair to say housing is extremely important to Canadians,” said Barry Vrbanovic, Kitchener city councillor and former FCM president. “Our cities and communities are looking for a stable and secure housing market, because that ultimately helps create jobs, attract workers, meet needs of folks like seniors and young families in particular and also helps keep some of our most vulnerable citizens off the streets.”

Vrbanovic put forth a motion on Tuesday in a Kitchener council meeting calling for support for a national housing strategy, which was passed.

Housing continues to be a pressing problem in Waterloo Region where, despite its overall affluence, over 3,000 people are on the waitlist for affordable housing.

“And no matter what gets built, the list doesn’t get any smaller,” said Seiling.
Part of the problem, Vrbanovic believes, is that development has been primarily focused across the region on student housing and ownership condos.

“What we haven’t seen a great deal of is rental housing going up. There has been some, but not a lot,” he said.

The Region is now in its second phase of a plan for developing affordable and supportive housing units, and is working toward creating 500 units in addition to a previously-developed 1,500.

Affordability is part of a broader conversation about housing stability, which requires more than cheap rent.

“We know that in order for people to have housing stability, they need three things: they need adequate income, they need adequate housing and adequate access to support,” said Lynn Macaulay, the initiatives coordinator for local organization the Housing and Homelessness Umbrella Group (HHUG).

Quality and safety of housing, as well as the number of people who may have to share a residence, can be tied to issues of affordability.

While Macaulay noted that all levels of government can provide a role, she expressed the need for the federal government to take a lead in funding.

“It would be great if they were the ones providing some leadership and setting some standards,” she said. “We really need them to come to the table on this.”

Macaulay continued, “It’s really, quite frankly, on the international front, becoming quite an embarrassment.”

Annual federal funding for housing is soon set to expire, which could lead to drops in funding of $500 million a year between 2014 and 2019.

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