Playing the waiting game on affordable housing

In these trying times, there are a significant number of students and families in the Waterloo Region who are in need of financial assistance. They are advised to seek local affordable housing, but unfortunately, it isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

Waterloo Region’s Affordable Housing Strategy (AHS) addresses the need for sustainable and affordable housing  locally. The strategy involves housing providers that receive funding from the Region of Waterloo, including non-profits, co-ops and units that the Region owns and operates through Waterloo Region Housing.

Student housing-Latania Hyatt
Affordable Housing Strategy in Waterloo Region has a waitlist of about of 3,000 people. (Photo by Latania Hyatt)

If one is in need for an affordable housing unit, Deb Schilchter, the director of housing for the Region of Waterloo, explained that there is a process that must be followed, which involves submitting a form to the housing department.

“The application allows you to choose which housing sites you want and you are put on each of those site wait lists chronologically, by date of application, until a unit becomes vacant,” Schilchter explained.

“There are some basic eligibility criteria to meet and you can only apply for units that are appropriate for your household size.”

The waitlist fluctuates throughout the year, but it includes 3,000 households on average, a number that has been fairly steady over the past several years.  To house people on the wait list, current tenants have to move out or turnover. However, this may cause many conflicts for those waitlisted.

“Right now, turnover is lower than previously, so that limits the number of vacant units for new tenants to move into,” Schilchter revealed.

There is also a limited supply of affordable housing units to meet everyone’s needs, so households can wait for less than a year to sometimes more than six years.  The waiting time will vary depending on how many site choices are made, the size of the household and other variables.”

Kitchener-Waterloo resident Richard O’Connor understands the frustrations of being waitlisted. After losing his job and being unable to pay his rent, O’Connor found himself applying for affordable housing. He’s currently waiting for a spot to open up.

“I’m trying to be patient, but it’s hard,” O’Connor explained. “I want to get back on my two feet, but in order for me to do that, I need my own place.”

O’Connor is currently staying with a friend and searching for work to help pay rent. At this time, he isn’t sure if he will try finding a cheap apartment or just continue to wait.

“If I wait, I have to stay at my friend’s house and I don’t want to intrude on his home space,” O’Conner explained. “If I go apartment hunting, all I can really afford right now is probably a much too small of an apartment that probably won’t be in an area that I like. I think it’d be safest if I didn’t take my chances right now.”

Recently, Peter Braid, the MP for Kitchener-Waterloo, along with Kitchener Centre MPP John Milloy, announced the official opening of three new reasonably priced housing projects for low-income households.

“This is very much a partnership approach with various levels of government working to meet in our community,” Braid shared. “We provide safe and affordable housing for vulnerable people in our community.”

Braid also addressed that there are affordable housing options for families, not just students.

“There are organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, a charitable organization that has a local chapter that helps to provide affordable housing for low-income families,” Braid said.

The current strategy plans to create at least 500 new units of affordable housing by the end of 2013.

By the end of December 2012, 476 units were created.  There are two priorities for these new units: to have 40 per cent of them targeted to the lowest income households and to have 100 units of supportive housing.

“Despite the fact that we are a relatively prosperous community, there’s still an obvious need to provide affordable housing in our community,” Braid said.

“Providing safe and affordable housing is a building block for a strong community and it helps to contribute to the economic and social well-being of the entire community.”

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