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Social housing builds stay stagnant as waitlist nears 5K

The Community Housing Corporation, along with the city, are looking at ways to get funding from the National Housing Strategy. The city has provided tax breaks to landlords who participate in the housing programs.

'Some of our stock is over 50 years old, some as old as 100 years old'

Deborah Frey said she gave up on the affordable housing list and is trying to make enough money to get a place of her own. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

Homelessness is on the rise in Windsor and affordable housing units are hard to come by. The city puts the number of families and people looking to get into social housing at nearly 5,000.

Two years ago, the list was at 3,000.

Deborah Frey was one of those names. She said she gave up on the list and is now trying to make enough money to get a place of her own. She lived in Windsor's affordable housing and didn't have a good experience.

"The first time was a nightmare. We were there two months and we left," Frey said.

She has been staying at the Downtown Mission for the last eight months, with the hope of moving out on her own soon.

New units

Construction on an eight-storey, 150 unit, affordable housing building on Meadowbrook Lane may start in February 2019.

The project — a collaboration between the city and the Canadian Housing Corporation — requires approval by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation before construction can begin. A private developer is also building 30 affordable units for seniors in Amherstburg.

Currently, there are about 8,500 social housing units in Windsor and Essex County, said Debbie Cercone, the executive director of housing and children services for the city.

"We have expanded rent supplement units and housing allowance," she said. "We've added quite a few of those in the last several years, about 300, which brings our total to about 1,000."

Funding from "upper levels of government" has created about $30 million in funding since 2009 — increasing the number units by 390. Those have been split between the city and county at 60 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively.

Social housing or gear-to-income housing is based on 30 per cent of a person's average monthly income. The city will provide a subsidy to social housing providers to offset the costs of the unit. Affordable housing is for people who are working but require a bit of assistance related to rent.

Housing options

The Central Housing Registry offers a variety of homes, from bachelor to five-bedroom units. Some cover utilities, others do not. According to the online registry, out of 6,431 units, there are 128 accessible homes in Windsor. In Essex County there are 1,025 units and 23 are accessible. 

Council options

City and town councils have options to provide incentives for developers to build new social housing units. They can require a percentage of new builds to include affordable housing. 

Capital programs offer a forgivable loan to a developer who wants to build affordable housing, but there are requirements they have to abide by.

"They must maintain those rents for the duration of the loan at 80 per cent of the average market rent, so they have to charge a lower rent than they would in the regular market," Cercone said. 

Currently, there are about 8,500 social housing units in Windsor Essex, said Debbie Cercone, the executive director of housing and children services for the city. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

Councils can also decide to waive development charges.

"There is a bylaw that allows anybody that participates in the capital programs that we implement from the federal and provincial governments to charge the single residential tax rate, as opposed to the multi-residential tax rate," she said.

That means landlords can receive a break on their taxes if they offer those programs.

National Housing Strategy

In November 2017, the federal government introduced a $40 billion, 10-year national housing strategy, but it won't kick in until after the election in 2019. There are components that the government wants to see implemented across Canada.

"Among them are additional expansion of affordable housing units, repair to existing stock, which is needed, some of our stock is over 50 years old, some as old as 100 years old," said Cercone.

There is also a subsidy program, which would help eligible people with their monthly housing costs. 

"We look forward to hearing more details through the province," she said. "For us it's a way to help address the pressures that we have currently in Windsor Essex county with our housing need."

Nov. 22 is National Housing day — a day Cercone hopes to hear more announcements.

Mayoral candidate housing plans

During a recent mayoral debate, Drew Dilkens said city council has made investments for affordable housing.

"The investment is the first in 30 years. We're the ones who did it and got it done," he said. "We're investing in 150 affordable housing units in Meadowbrook." 

He said there are another 30 units going into the downtown core, in a rundown building that will be renovated. The executive director of housing and children services for the city was not able to provide more information.

Dilkens said homelessness is complex and that the city is taking a housing-first strategy to fix the issue. Dilkens said last year the city was able to house 250 people.

"You have to get people into a home, then you can deal with all the aspects of their lives and try to get them the support they need to become productive citizens in our community," he said.

But that's not all. Dilkens said the city is going to wave the fee on development, reduce property taxes for 10 years, and bring in a developer to construct more affordable housing on a parking lot on Caron Avenue between University Avenue and Riverside Drive.

Matt Marchand is also running for mayor. His plan is to enact an inclusionary zoning bylaw, which would require developers to include social and housing units in new residential developments.

"Also looking at refurbishing tax we're receiving on residential properties, introduce social or affordable housing stock when appropriate," he said. "These houses can be located throughout the city and help make social and affordable housing into established communities."

About the Author

Stacey Janzer

Stacey Janzer was born and raised in Essex County. Self-described Canadian treasure. She currently works as a video journalist at CBC Windsor. Email her at Stacey.Janzer@cbc.ca.