London·Home Values

Low wages leave Londoners caught in a housing crunch

One third of people in London rent, a total that is higher than the provincial and national average, and more London families are getting by with less.

Losses in manufacturing are taking a toll: 'This is about poverty, it's an income problem'

London's real estate market may be booming, but low-income earners are struggling to keep up.

A series exploring real estate, trends and the importance of home

Amid the real estate boom in London, there's also a very different reality. 

A third of Londoners rent — that's higher than the provincial and national average. 

Almost 20 per cent of people here live on less than $30,000. 

The average rent for a single person is just over $800 — almost double what  social assistance allocates for housing per month. 

More people are earning less than they did in 2005 — and a quarter of children live in low-income households, the third-highest rate in the country. 
Tracey Smith-Carrier is a professor at the school of social work at King's University College and a researcher with the London Poverty Research Centre at King's. She studies low income and social assistance rates and their impact on families. (Supplied photo)

"This is about poverty. It's an income problem," said Tracy Smith-Carrier, a professor in the school of social work at King's University College and a researcher with the London Poverty Research Centre at King's. 

"With the loss of manufacturing we also have high unemployment rates and low employment rates. Our employment rates have been steadily declining since 2000."

London also has more people paying at least 30 per cent of their income on housing — a measure of affordable housing — which leaves precious little for bills, food and other necessities. 

"It's interesting to see how much London is booming in terms of housing, because it's not across the sector. When you look at what's happening, there's new high-end condos in the core, there's single family homes in the suburbs. But for folks that can't pay for that level of housing, there's very little," said Abe Oudshoorn of the London Homeless Coalition. 

This week he called on city politicians to ask the provincial government to raise the housing portion of Ontario Works rates by $245. An average bachelor apartment in London costs $621 and an average one-bedroom apartment costs $802. 

There's a one-per-cent vacancy rate for one-bedroom apartments in the city, on par with the vacancy rate for Toronto and Vanvouver. That means single people looking for affordable housing struggle to find it. 

Affordable housing needed

The city offers incentives for developers who build affordable or geared-to-income housing units alongside those priced at market-rent, but there's not enough of those to help all those who need housing, Oudshoorn said. 

"There are new affordable housing builds happening every year, we get provincial and municipal money to do that, but it's the scale of the need versus the amount of funding that's the problem," Oudshoorn said. "There are 3,000 people on waiting lists for affordable housing." 

That housing has a reputation for being old — many have electric heating, which quickly eats up a budget — as well as run-down and dirty. 

Wednesday's census data revealed that 17 per cent of Londoners are living on low income — 34 per cent of those are lone-parent families. 

Living on low income, one paycheque away from homelessness, is incredibly stressful, said Smith-Carrier. 

"I grew up in poverty. I grew up with a single mom on social assistance. I'm familiar in my history with what that's like, and I've also focused my research on social assistance rates," she said. "Food insecurity was a chronic problem for our household. You end up thinking you're not worthy to have your basic needs met. You end up going from one problem to the next."