London·Home Values

Low income, high rent: Two London families struggle to make ends meet

The number of people living on low income in London has increased in the last five years. Two mothers share their stories about what it's like to get by when most of your money goes to housing.

A housing boom and economic rebound hasn't trickled down to people trying to scrape by on low income in London

Marissa Humphrey, 27, lives in St. Thomas in affordable housing, but wishes she could move back to her friends, family and support network in London. The single mom can't afford to do that because rent in London is high, and affordable housing wait lists are long. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

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It doesn't take much to throw Marissa Humphrey's budget out of wack. 

A flat tire. A day off work to tend to a sick toddler. A spike in gas prices. A new snowsuit for a growing six-year-old. 

​"It all adds up so quickly," Humphrey said Wednesday, before starting her 7 a.m. shift at a retail warehouse in south London. 

Humphrey, 27, makes about $1,600 a month and spends more than half of it paying her rent.

The mother of two lives in subsidized housing in St. Thomas, the only place she could find a geared-to-income rental unit. She wants to move back to London to be closer to family but she can't afford it. 

"If I'd stayed in London, I'd probably still be waiting for housing, and my daughter is almost two," she said noting the waitlist for affordable housing is almost a year long.

Rent for families too high

Humphrey is like almost 20 per cent of Londoners working to make ends meet on a low income, or less than $30,000. 

Housing is a major concern for the young mother who explains she must carefully parse out whatever's leftover after paying the rent. In the winter, she said she tries not to turn on the heat to save on electricity. 

She's looked through London's apartment rental listings but the $800 she budgets for rent won't cut it. 

A single person looking for a one-bedroom in the city pays on average that amount. Two or three bedrooms adds several hundred dollars more to the rental price.  

Most places Humphrey has seen are $1,200 and up. 

"You want a place where you can feel safe. I want to be able to let my kids play outside and feel good about it," she said.

Humphrey is looking for more work -- the contract job at the warehouse ends at the end of September -- and she's hopeful she'll make enough to find her way back to London.

'It's impossible'

Becky is another Londoner overwhelmed by trying to incorporate housing costs into a tight family budget. The mother of two lives with her spouse in a two-bedroom apartment.

She's recently left her job and found herself on Ontario Works. 

Consider this math: The housing portion of her Ontario Works benefit is $498. Her rent is $775.

She also has to pay for gas, hydro, phone and Internet -- she needs the Internet to look for work and answer emails from potential employers. 

"'How are you supposed to do better for yourself when you can't even have a house, when you can't even make your rent and hydro rates are so insane?"

She's considered looking for a place to live elsewhere, such as St. Thomas. But that means abandoning her family and her friends, who help her look after her children and offer emotional support. 

Her spouse stays home with their kids, both under two, so they don't have to pay for daycare. Becky has completed a community college program and is looking for administrative work. 

Stigma and housing insecurity

The CBC has agreed not to use Becky's last name because she fears repercussions from some family members if they find out her precarious financial situation. 

"I have no cash. I need to be able to put clothes on my kids. It's embarrassing," she said. 

"There's a stigma that (Ontario Works) is for people who are lazy, and that's just the stigma that there is. It's really frustrating," Becky said. 

She's looked at decent three-bedroom apartments for $1,300. She can't afford them. 

"I have to find money by either missing a payment on hydro one month or missing a payment on gas," she said. 

She's been told the waiting list for a city-run affordable housing unit is at least seven months. 

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