'I am trying and struggling': Lack of accessible, affordable units leaves Kitchener man stranded
There are 3K affordable housing units through Waterloo Region Housing program, 51 are considered accessible
Ronald Hoppe said shock turned to anger when he found out he would be waiting years on Waterloo region's affordable housing list before he would be able to get a unit that was accessible.
Hoppe, who has run Kitchener's Comic-Con since 2015, started using a wheelchair earlier this year after part of his left leg was amputated in December 2020.
Hoppe also previously had all his toes on his right foot amputated and has cataract scarring in both his eyes, which he said has caused problems with his vision.
"I was upset because here I am, a person in need who is trying to live independent, trying to get my life back in order, and when I heard about this wait list I was like, 'You have to be kidding me?'" Hoppe told CBC News.
"I'm doing what I can to piece the broken pieces together with scotch tape. I am trying and struggling every single day."
During his recovery at St. Joseph's Health Centre in Guelph, Hoppe said he found out he was being pushed out of the Kitchener townhouse he shared with a roommate in part because of his disability. He then tried to find an alternative place to stay.
Hoppe said at the same time he registered for the region's affordable housing program with the hope of getting a unit, and he discovered he might be waiting up to seven years.
"You're hoping to see a light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel, you fill out all the paperwork and you find out it's a seven year waiting list," he said.
"What are you supposed to do in the meantime? The answer is, suffer."
Average wait time 3 to 7 years
According to the region, the average wait time for an affordable unit can be anywhere from three to seven years, and it can often be an even longer wait for those looking for an accessible unit.
As demand for affordable housing continues to rise in Waterloo region, local advocates say there needs to be a bigger push for more accessible and affordable units as well.
The Region of Waterloo oversees roughly 5,600 affordable housing units through different programs like Waterloo Region Housing and the region's rent supplement program.
The region also works with non-profit organizations, co-op living communities and private landlords to provide and build more affordable housing.
However, only 51 of Waterloo Region Housing's 3,000 units are considered accessible. The region's rent supplement program has 56 accessible units, and 380 accessible units are registered through non-profit and co-ops working with the region.
"In general it's a big issue, but especially for people with disabilities because there is so little of it," said Edward Faruzel, executive director of KW AccessAbility, a non-profit organization that helps people with disabilities in the region.
Faruzel said his organization has been advocating for more accessible and affordable housing for years.
KW AcessAbility doesn't provide affordable housing units, but the organization helps people navigate the region's affordable housing system and assisted living, Faruzel said.
He said the number of people reaching out to his organization for help has been on the rise over the last five years, many not knowing how to begin finding a home.
"It might be an injury that's happened recently, we've received a lot of calls about that. Or, people will call for a loved one or a parent who's had a stroke," he said.
"In the past it might have been a few a year, but now we're getting a few a month. It's increased dramatically."
Shelter system a 'horrific experience'
After being released from the hospital in May, Hoppe said he was dropped off at The Bridges shelter in Cambridge because it was the only accessible shelter in Waterloo region.
He said he's struggled to get help from other local homeless organizations because he is not considered chronically homeless and is not part of the region's emergency shelter system.
Hoppe said he spent one night at The Bridges, but decided not to stay due to the shelter's condition. He said the shelter had a number of COVID-19 cases at the time and he was not told where he could find an accessible washroom.
"No one was wearing masks, there was no physical distancing. It was a horrific experience," he said.
After that, Hoppe said he couch surfed with a friend while he tried to work out where he could go next and was eventually allowed to go back to his previous home in June. But Hoppe fears he could get pushed out again.
An added challenge he said, is that the townhouse he's currently subleasing is not wheelchair accessible and he is forced to crawl through doorways, to use the bathroom or to go up and down stairs.
Hoppe said he's also on social assistance and can't work because of his condition.
He adds the cost of rent in Waterloo region is too high and looking for a different apartment or townhouse to move into is no longer a viable option.
"If I didn't have this place to come back to, I would be in so much trouble right now," he said.
"I was naive thinking I could get over not having a leg in six months. I'm still adjusting."
'People aren't moving because of affordability'
High cost of rent in Waterloo region and a shortage of affordable housing units are major contributing factors to why thousands of people are on the wait list for years, according to Kelly-Anne Solerno, manager of Waterloo Region Housing.
Solerno said there are currently 6,000 people on the region's wait list for affordable housing, 81 of them in need of an accessible unit, and the wait list is only getting longer.
"In terms of Waterloo Region Housing [...] we're looking at a less than two per cent vacancy rate, which is very similar to what the community is feeling right now in terms of stock, and our turn over rate is really low right now," she said.
"People aren't moving because of affordability. As we have vacant units, we rent them up as soon as we can."
And it can become more challenging for people looking for accessible units, she said.
The majority of the affordable units that the region took over from the Ontario Housing Corporation 20 years ago were not built to be accessible.
As the region builds new affordable housing, making sure there's more accessible, affordable units is a much bigger priority now, Solerno said.
"The province's standard is that 15 per cent of the new units that we build must have basic accessibility features such as barrier-free paths, travel in doorways, kitchen and bedroom," she said.
Faruzel and Hoppe said 15 per cent is a small step in the right direction and more needs to be done to increase the number of accessible units locally.
The region has plans to build up to 2,500 new affordable housing units over the next five years and Solerno said they are willing to work with more non-profits and landlords to bring more affordable housing and accessible units to the community.
"As we continue to build and ramp up, we'll start to see more accessible units coming into the stock," Solerno said.