A leading expert on housing and homelessness says what Thunder Bay is experiencing, is part of a national affordable-housing crisis.
Michael Shapcott is the director of housing and innovation at the Toronto-based Wellesley Institute. Shapcott said provincial and federal governments are failing to address the problem.
"We've had what has been a very sharp erosion in the housing landscape over the last 10, 15, 20 years in Thunder Bay, and indeed, in almost every other part of Canada. That's when we begin to say that these are real alarm bells," Shapcott said.
Shapcott said solutions will cost a lot of money. But dealing with the social problems that result from lack of affordable housing will cost much more.
In the most recent federal budget, Shapcott said, he was happy to see a five-year program for affordable housing — $253 million for affordable housing annually over the next five years, to be matched by the provinces.
"[But] the housing crisis is so severe in so many parts of the country that very little of that money will actually make its way to Thunder Bay."
He said the federal and provincial governments need to step up to the plate, provide more funding, and work with municipalities to solve this problem.
"If we say to Thunder Bay you're on your own. You figure out the problem, then, unfortunately, the situation is just going to continue to spiral downwards for Thunder Bay."
A moderately healthy vacancy rate for the rental-housing market is three per cent, according to Shapcott. In Thunder Bay that rate is one per cent. In addition, the waiting list for affordable housing in the city has gone from about 450 in 2003 to more than 1,400 on the most recent list.
These are indications that, "what's happening in Thunder Bay is in every sense of the word, a crisis," Shapcott said.
Across the country, he said, other communities are also struggling. Nationally, there has been an erosion of affordable housing over the past 25 years or so, and that has coincided with provincial and federal cuts to funding for housing.