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Homeless need federal money Eves won't hand over

Kitchener- Waterloo Record - July 15, 2002
by Frank Etherington

A decade ago, our newsroom received one or two calls a month from people who faced eviction or couldn't find affordable housing. Nowadays, it's not unusual to handle one call a day.

In past weeks, appeals for help included a woman with five kids and a couple with three children living in Kitchener motel rooms because they couldn't afford high rents. Because emergency shelters were full, taxpayers paid the bills for such totally inappropriate shelter.

There were stories about Darlene Napper and Penny Alberta, forced to camp at a Cambridge park because they couldn't find housing. They were kicked out of the park when council said campers can't stay more than three days.

Meanwhile, our rent bank and eviction service -- created to provide loans for those having difficulty paying rent -- is handling 100 calls a month. Most of these cases were caused by absence of meaningful rent-control, a shortage of subsidized housing and a freeze on minimum wage and welfare benefits.

Eight months ago, pressured by cities faced with increased homelessness caused by an affordable-housing shortage, our deeply caring federal Liberal politicians reluctantly approved $680 million for low-cost housing. Ontario qualified for $244 million of that money -- $9 million for Waterloo Region -- provided to ease a subsidized-housing shortage governments helped create when they scrapped low-cost housing in the mid-1990s.

Since then, our deeply caring provincial Tory politicians have squatted their overpaid butts on that federal cash and done everything possible to avoid participating in low-cost housing programs. While doing so, they have ignored appeals from municipal councillors trying to help thousands of needy people waiting for shelter.

Waterloo Region and Guelph statistics show there are at least 20,000 children and adults -- many from working-poor families -- on waiting lists for low-cost homes.

To qualify for federal subsidies, any affordable home must meet outdated Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's criteria that says tenants pay less than 30 per cent of income for rent. This means local rents would be $570 for bachelors, $665 for one-bedroom and $740 for two-bedroom units.

Trouble is, about 80 per cent of those waiting for local subsidized housing have annual incomes below $20,000.

Using that 30 per cent guide, people earning minimum wage could afford $354 monthly rent while individuals on welfare could pay only $325.

Which means realistic monthly rents for the poor should be $325 for bachelors, $522 for one-bedrooms and $554 for two-bedroom units -- well below CMHC guidelines.

Reacting to a worsening housing crisis, Waterloo Region councillors -- who, unlike MPPs, care about such issues --created a $15-million fund to build affordable homes.

But for those units to have realistic, affordable rents, Waterloo Region desperately needs federal-provincial cash.

Asked when we might see money from Queen's Park, regional housing programs administrator Tim Welch said "perhaps by the next millennium." He qualified that by saying regional officials doubt they will see the cash until late this fall -- a year after Ottawa provided housing funds.

Because of the human misery caused by such uncaring inaction, residents should call local members of Ernie Eves' kinder, gentler government and tell them to pay up faster or face political eviction in the next election.

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