By: Michelle Poirier
The lack of affordable housing is the most significant issue facing low-income residents in Georgina, according to a new report, A Closer Look.
The report, released in December 2019, was funded by United Way Greater Toronto and led by Jericho Youth Services, Georgina Community Food Pantry and Routes Connecting Communities.
Catherine Cook, Director of Georgina Community Food Pantry, says 13 per cent of the people who go to the Food Pantry are housing insecure.
“Not all of the 13 per cent are homeless,” Cook said. “But they do couch surfing; they’re living with extended family, friends, places where they’re in a transition. Or they could be living at a motel because they don’t have a place to call their own.”
Cook says they’ve adapted services at the Food Pantry to accommodate homeless clients, offering smaller quantities of food since they can’t take the usual four days of food provided.
They also stock food that can be readily consumed, and doesn’t require access to a kitchen to prepare.
“If they come by during off-days and we’re available, we’ll open the doors, and we’ll give them some food to get them through the day,” Cook said.
Whether these folks are homeless or housing insecure, their chances of finding affordable housing in Georgina are slim.
According to a Town of Georgina housing report, only nine per cent of new freehold units are classified as affordable.
And, there’s a chronic shortage of affordable rental housing, with almost half of all renters paying more than 30 per cent of their income on rent.
Typically, most subsidized housing offers rent geared-to-income (RGI), which is calculated at 30 per cent of a household’s total gross income.
While Georgina desperately needs more affordable housing units, the Town and the Region haven’t been able to fill the gap.
Recently, Georgina Council refused to defer $75,000 in permit and application fees – a practice followed by other municipalities – for a Habitat for Humanity project on Dalton Rd in Sutton.
According to Habitat for Humanity, the six-unit townhouse project will still proceed. But the council’s decision does little to encourage future community housing providers.
York Region is halfway through its 10-Year Housing and Homelessness Plan, and in phase one, they built Lakeside Residences, a 97 unit building in Upper Keswick offering affordable housing for families and seniors.
But since that building opened in 2014, the Region hasn’t built any new subsidized apartment units in Georgina.
Currently, the Region’s website lists four housing locations in Georgina that offer subsidized units for individuals, families and seniors with low-to moderate incomes: East Court, Glenwood Mews, Jackson’s Point Co-operative Housing and Lakeside Residences.
However, these properties have limited units and long wait lists.
In 2017, there were nearly 15 thousand applicants on the Region’s wait list for subsidized housing — having doubled in size over the past 7 years. And, wait times for subsidized units average six years.
Seniors continue to be the largest group waiting for subsidized housing, making up about 55 per cent of applicants on the wait list.
Applications are available on the Region’s website, but they require detailed information, including the applicant’s current CRA Notice of Assessment and T1 General Income Tax Form – hardly documents that a homeless person would have easy access to.
Despite the red tape and lack of units, the Region promises that phase two will deliver better results.
“Phase two includes a number of actions that will benefit residents across York Region, including the Town of Georgina,” Hailey Russell, Health Educator for York Region, said.
Russell said phase two includes; piloting a portable rent subsidy program to help residents find and keep affordable housing, updating policies and practices to help support residents on the Region’s waitlist for subsidized housing, and supporting community housing providers looking to develop new housing.
Meanwhile, the homeless and housing insecure will have to get by with what’s available this winter, which isn’t much.
While the Town of Georgina does open its facilities to the homeless during extreme cold warnings, these facilities, like the Ice Palace, are only available during regular business hours. This information is communicated solely through the Town’s website and social media channels. Unfortunately, most homeless people do not own a smart phone.
Georgina also lacks an overnight shelter for adult men and women.
In Georgina, the only emergency housing options are Sutton Youth Services, Sandgate Women’s Shelter, or finding a bed for the night through the 360 Kids Nightstop program.
If an adult man or woman is homeless in Georgina, their only option is to travel to Newmarket to find a seasonal shelter like Inn From the Cold, or, for men only, Porter Place in East Gwillimbury, operated by Blue Door.