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Downside of good economy; there’s no room for the poor

BY MIKE SIMMS There’s a housing shortage in Sudbury with rental vacancy rates hovering just above one percent. The rate could go lower than one percent this year. Sudbury’s vacancy rate, the amount of housing available, dropped to a low of 1.


There’s a housing shortage in Sudbury with rental vacancy rates hovering just above one percent. The rate could go lower than one percent this year.

Sudbury’s vacancy rate, the amount of housing available, dropped to a low of 1.6 percent in 2005. The figure is based on a report by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) from their 2005 market survey. 

A healthy housing vacancy rate is about three percent, according to Sudbury Social Planning Council executive director Janet Gasparini.  She is concerned income sources for the working poor and people on social assistance have not kept up with the rate of inflation. 

“There’s an increased use of food banks and soup kitchens,” Gasparini said.  “The gap between rich and poor is widening.”

Peter Szilva, president of the Sudbury Soup Kitchen, sees the vacancy rates effect on his clients and an increased need for the service his kitchen provides.

“I think it (lack of housing) plays a really important part,” Szilva said.  “Some of the people are homeless.

“If the government would help people more, I think we’d have less people needing the assistance.”

The rental vacancy rate at one point was at a high of 11 percent, but that figure has dropped steadily since the late 1990s. The city’s waiting list for geared-to-income housing has more than a thousand applicants waiting for shelter, Gasparini added.

“The economy is booming, so it leads to low vacancy rates,” Gasparini said.  “This hampers our economic growth.”

“When the economy is strong, there’s a lot of pressure on the housing market,” said David Peters, special adviser for housing policy and advocacy at the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association (ONHPHA).  ONPHA represents 770 non-profit organizations that provide housing within 220 communities.

As part of its work, the ONPHA gathers statistics on housing in the province. One of those statistics: The province of Ontario has more than 122,000 people on municipal waiting lists for affordable housing.

“Homelesness has become a national embarrassment in Canada and Ontario,” Peters said.

When compared with the rest of Ontario, Sudbury is in desperate need of housing, according to the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association’s (ONPHA) report Where’s Home? On top of that, the housing that is available is unaffordable to the average income earner in Sudbury.

The report stated a retail salesperson in Sudbury earned about $19,451 in 2005. When matched with the yearly income figure, a Sudbury citizen could afford to pay a rent of $486 a month.  But, the average rent in Sudbury for a one-bedroom apartment was $544.  Thirty-four percent of this average person’s salary would be spent on rent. It is generally recommended that a person spend 25 to 30 percent on accommodation.

Peters said Sudbury’s vacancy rate is at a 10-year low of 1.2 per cent in 2006 according to the new CMHC report.

  The rate is expected to hit one per cent this year. The last time the rate was so low was in 1991 when the rate was 0.7 percent.

“In the long run, we need a provincial and national strategy on housing,” Peters said. “We don’t think this on again, off again strategy will remedy an enduring problem.”

According to Peters, the federal budget had nothing to contribute toward housing. It is obvious the federal government views the issue as a provincial responsibility.

Areas like Sudbury have some resource centres such as the Red Cross Housing Registry to refer prospective tenants toward affordable housing.  But, “if there’s not many places to refer them to, you can’t do anything,” Peters said.

With students returning home from their studies in May, the situation isn’t expected to get any better, according to Dave Finn, the campus housing co-ordinator for the Student’s General Association at Laurentian University.

“Usually we have an abundance of rooms for rent, but for private accommodations it’s rather difficult,” Finn said. “It’s a timing thing for most students.”

The housing office has a mailing list and apartment listings on their website at

Last year about 300 students were on the mailing list. More than 20 off-campus apartments came through for those students. June and July are the most hectic months (to find housing) if a student doesn’t get into residence, Finn added.

“It would be a reflection on the market,” Finn said.  “It’s always going to be harder for a student to find a place because it’s their first time.

“They’re less attractive than someone out there more well established.”

“It’s always going to be hard at any time of year, but you ensure yourself a better chance by starting early,” Finn said.

The provincial budget, released March 22, had initiatives aimed at supporting low-income earners and housing projects.   The minimum wage will be increased to $10.25 an hour over a three year period starting next March.

Starting in 2008, a new housing allowance, worth $100 per month for rent, will be given to 27,000 low-income families over five years.

Total spending will add up to $392 million, which was received from the federal level last year.

Rick Bartolucci, the Liberal MPP for Sudbury said he wants “progress, not protest.”

The potential for our region is maximized when all three levels of government are working together, he added.

The budget set aside “$185 million in additional resources to better house Ontario families,” Bartolucci said.  “Then $127 million to Ontario families to help them build and maintain social housing.” 

The $185 million will be used for the $100 per month rent supplement, and the $127 million will go to municipalities to build or repair housing units.

Bartolucci added the government plans to spend $80 million to build more than 1,000 off reserve housing units for aboriginals as part of the budget.

“One of my priorities is affordable housing for the less fortunate,” Bartolucci said.  “That’s obviously a priority of our government. That’s why we’ve given it additional resources and that’s why we’ve given additional resources to municipalities to rehabilitate social housing.


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