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Facing the long wait for housing

One to five-year waits for public housing locally aren't as bad as waiting times in Toronto, Durham

Peterborough Examiner - July 14, 2002
by David Smith

A city family staring down the barrel of Ontario's affordable housing crunch has come full circle and is about to go back to paying the high rents that got them in trouble in the first place.

Having spent two years on the affordable housing waiting list, Rick Reid, 37, and Wendy Ibey, 28 got so far behind on the rent at their Goodfellow Road apartment, they were forced to move in with a friend who offered to let them and their four children, two of them babies aged two and 13 months, stay in his rec room.

That was six weeks ago. Now the parents are at their wits' end about where they will go next.

"We're just really stressed out now," Reid said. "(The friend is) just doing us a favour. If it came down to it, he'd let us stay another month, but I don't want to lose a friend over it."

Ibey said they don't want to overstay their welcome.

The family had been living in their three-bedroom unit on Goodfellow Road for about two years, paying $710 a month on Reid's $10.75 an hour general labour construction job.

In October, they started to get behind on the rent and their monthly payments increased to $860. To make matters worse, Reid was laid off in February, leaving the family to make do with their monthly $1,136 in social assistance.

"It doesn't go very far.... Not compared to when Rick was working," said Ibey who is staying home with the children ? Shyann, 2 months, Natasha, 13 months and Ashley, 15, and Jessica, 8, Reid's and Ibey's daughters respectively from previous relationships.

Diapers and formula alone cost more than $50 each week, Ibey said. On top of that are telephone, cable and utility bills, Reid said. "We're back to square one again."

The only option they feel they have is to go back to paying upwards of $800 a month in market-value rents.

"We won't eat very well," Reid said.

"Even if we weren't on assistance and Rick was working, we still wouldn't be able to afford the rent people are asking for."

When the couple first applied for assisted housing two years ago, they were number 56 on the waiting list. They now sit at number 24.

Darlene Cook, general manager of Peterborough Housing Corporation, said it is "anyone's guess" as to how long it will take the family to get into accommodations. "I can tell you it's not going to be within two weeks," she said.

There are about 1,750 people in Peterborough County on a waiting list for affordable housing, including families and single people, Cook said. The need determines the wait.

The longest wait times are for single people under 60 who cannot move into a seniors' unit, Cook said. Likely entering the waiting list at about number 500, singles in Peterborough can expect to wait an average of about three to five years for a one-bedroom apartment in public housing.

Two and three-bedroom units become available most often, so families in Peterborough can expect to wait an average of about 12 to 18 months, Cook said cautiously, adding the waits can often be much longer.

By comparison a family in Toronto can expect to wait up to 12 years for two or three bedroom accommodations and Durham Region has an average wait of about four to six years.

"So Peterborough, relatively speaking, is not too terrible" Cook said, emphasizing that we are speaking in "relative terms."

There has not been any new government-funded affordable housing and few private sector low-rent units built in the province since 1995, Cook said. The province signed on to a federal incentive program last month that allows up to $25,000 in funding per unit in affordable housing construction, Cook said, but the actual guidelines won't be known until September.

The federal government matches dollar for dollar other funding raised towards construction, Cook said.

So far the province has only said it will chip in the $2,000 provincial sales tax credit per unit, Cook said. Any fees put up by municipalities such as waiving development fees or property taxes will be matched by Ottawa.

While there are temporary emergency shelters in Peterborough, accommodating about two or three families, they are designed to house people for short periods of time, which vary depending upon the needs of the family, said Darlene Smith-Harrison, an outreach worker with the Housing Resource Centre, a program of the Community Counseling and Resource Centre.

While they help those in situations like the Reid-Ibey family find housing, Smith-Harrison does not expect their situation to have changed when they are expected to leave the rec room in a fortnight's time.

"Realistically they will have to go into a market-rent situation again," Smith-Harrison said.

Reid said the only option he sees for the immediate future is going back to the same building they left just six weeks ago.

"We're back to square one."

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