'The system isn't working': Kitchener housing report raises red flags on affordability

A new report going before a Kitchener committee Monday says home ownership is becoming unaffordable for all but the city's highest earners. The report also highlights gaps in data about the impact of AirBNBs and "renovictions" in the city.

Data gaps on housing speculation, 'renovictions' also highlighted

A report going before a city of Kitchener committee Monday says housing has become increasingly unaffordable for many people living in the city. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

A new report going before a Kitchener committee Monday says home ownership is becoming unaffordable for all but the city's highest earners.

The report says rents increased by an average of 35 per cent while average housing prices increased by a whopping 88 per cent during the decade between 2008 and 2018.

Most of those cost increases happened since 2016, the report said.

"Only a third of the people in the city of Kitchener can afford to purchase what is now the average resale house in the city," said Karen Cooper, the city's manager of strategic and business planning.

The end result is that people who could have previously moved from a rental apartment into a family home are now staying where they are, she said.

That in turn leads to higher rental prices, which Cooper said can also contribute to rising homelessness.

GTA expats part of problem

Cooper said the uptick in housing prices is caused by a variety of factors:

  • People fleeing the Greater Toronto Area in search of relatively greener pastures.
  • More young people choosing to stick around after graduation.
  • New businesses setting up shop and bringing employees.
  • People buying real estate as an investment. 

Although many of those factors are generally thought to be positive, they also contribute to an increase in housing costs.

"You see these results coming out for people not being able to afford to buy, not being able to afford to rent," said Cooper.

"That's why we say in the report that the system isn't working."

More affordable, community housing needed

Sandra Robertson thinks Kitchener needs to invest in far more affordable housing units — an idea supported by the city report. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Sandra Robertson, 72, said she feels she's "in the safest place in the world" living in affordable housing, but said she worries about young people trying to make ends meet. She said she has relatives who are "house poor," even those who are renting.

"It's unbelievable — you need a three income family for one apartment," said Robertson, who said she thinks that vastly more units are needed.

That idea is echoed in the Kitchener report, which calls for the development of more than 8,000 new affordable rental housing units and 3,000 new units of community housing.

Affordable housing is defined under the Provincial Policy Statement as housing that doesn't cost more than 30 per cent of a household's budget.

Affordable housing covers the spectrum of government subsidized housing to private market housing, rental and ownership, Cooper said in an email.

Community housing is provided by the non-profit sector and usually involves a government subsidy, Cooper said.

Between 250 to 750 supportive housing units are also needed, the report said.

Data gaps on speculation, AirBNBs, 'renovictions'

Although the report sheds light on a number of problems faced by Kitchener residents, it also points out that there's a lot we still don't know.

Kitchener does not track housing that's held on speculation, for investment or to generate income through AirBNBs and other kinds of "untracked" rental housing, the report said.

Neither does the city track so-called "renovictions." That's when tenants are forced to leave their homes so renovations or redevelopment can take place, often resulting in higher rents being charged after the fact.

Ward 9 Coun. Debbie Chapman said she believes this is happening in Kitchener.

In particular, she's heard of residents of downtown multiplex houses — some who have lived there for 20 or 30 years — who have been evicted so the houses could be demolished and condos put in their place.

"People are being driven out of their homes," said Chapman, who added that she thinks the city needs to start tracking these situations.

"Housing is a human right, and to think that it's just replaceable and people are movable, it seems not right to me."

Next steps

According to the next steps set out in the city's report, a standing committee report on a city-wide affordable housing strategy will be completed in the springtime, and a final strategy will go before council in the fall. 

Chapman said she's pleased to see action taken but is concerned about the possibility that no major changes will happen until 2021.

"I think [affordable housing] needs to be a permanent item on the on the budget until we get this resolved," she said. 


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