By now, few of us will have missed that our rural region, like the big cities, is experiencing a housing crisis. Join us June 22 at 4:30  for a free online event to explore the data that give us glimpses of our reality, the numbers behind our escalating rents and house prices, and the precarious stories of people most marginalized by circumstance and the pandemic. What the numbers tell us now is that the crisis is just the tip of an iceberg, the result of how the housing market is structured in relation to area wages, and how our communities may be changing.

This housing problem belongs to all of us because, even if you are not affected yet, it will have impact across families and businesses in the coming months. Recent financial circumstances and decisions, made well beyond the borders of our region, mean that housing has turned from a way for families to build home in community and grow equity - into a commodity, an investment and wealth accumulation proposition for some. Traditionally lower wages in this area have put some working families at a critical disadvantage.

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In-migration through the pandemic has brought new people interested in making home to our beautiful communities, bringing new opportunities and new wealth. It has also shifted the ownership structures in some communities, invited NIMBYISM (a Not In My BackYard approach to affordable development) in a few, exposed the critical shortage of affordable rental units and tipped some families into precarity. Often municipal politicians and members of the public confuse terms like “affordable” and “attainable” housing; “subsidized” or “social housing”. Our speakers take the approach that understanding the difference is essential and that planning for affordable housing for all must be squarely on the agenda for every municipality, business and nonprofit or philanthropic organization in our region.

Our communities like many others are deeply engaged in the justice issues connected to housing precarity and homelessness. However, it is getting clearer that while a focus on equity and those facing extreme adversity post-pandemic is critical, the lack of affordability of housing is also impacting directly on the sustainability of our communities. It makes a difference to everyone’s ability to not only live well, but to engage in the businesses and services that employ local people and attract visitors to our area. No homes, no workers, no business.

Traditionally lower-waged employees in the service industries such as restaurants, hospitality, retail, farm labour and health care are unable to find affordable housing, even with the capacity to pay reasonable rents or with down payment savings. Since Covid, we recognize these employment sectors as essential to sustaining our well-being and our economy. This is particularly so for many rural communities whose economies are based on tourism, farming and retirement services.

During the last two years, the Institute’s speaker series examined what it would take for our communities to be resilient and sustainable in the face of covid, predicting capital shortages and the changing economics of in-migration. Now the evidence is that every part of each our communities will be deeply affected by the housing crisis. In these earlier series, we learned that the ability of municipalities to work together to achieve scale across our region is critical and that each of our four key sectors, business, philanthropy, nonprofits and municipal governments, hold different parts of solution to a complex problem like the housing crisis. No single actor, level of government or business sector can resolve it alone. It is only through cross-dialogue and collaboration in community that we find the innovative made-at-home partnerships that draw on the resources of each.

Out of the pandemic have come some extraordinary community ventures of care. In Owen Sound, O’Share served more than 100,000 meals since the beginning of the pandemic, offering nutrition but also indirectly subsidizing high rental costs. In Meaford, a Chamber of Commerce survey points clearly to business concerns that the lack of affordable housing will constrain regrowth post pandemic. In the TBM the municipality is exploring new powers granted by the province to require below market-rate construction in new housing development and Collingwood has created an affordable housing taskforce.

Both of our speakers are members of The Institute’s Social Finance and Housing Group which is participating in a national Lab with Social Innovation Canada and CMHC, looking for new community-led solutions to the housing crisis. Our question is how we can not only give, as volunteers and donors, but also buy, sell, and invest in the kind of community we want to live in; using personal and public resources to help build a community where an affordable home is possible for everyone. This aspiration is the expression of the traditions of rural care and collaboration for the good of the community. A community discussion on this challenge is up for the post speaker discussion in this event. Please join us.

Affordable Housing: spending only 30% of pre-tax household income on shelter costs including rent or mortgage payments, realty taxes and utilities, for everyone.
Stuart Reid, and Marg Scheben-Edey, will share their data perspective from two recently published reports. illustrating the magnitude of this community challenge. Pre-reads to find out more:
Vital Focus on Housing, published by Community Foundation Grey Bruce
Regional Affordable Housing Task Force South Georgian Bay Report

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