The Centre J. Urgel Forget in Embrun is a privately-owned complex which offers also offers subsidized rent through social services. The centre was recently approved for an expansion. (Photo: Google Maps).

Community Building

Growing number of families and seniors on UCPR low-income housing wait list

By Francis Tessier-Burns

December 18, 2017

You may have heard of the soaring house prices in Vancouver and Toronto, but you don’t have to look that far to see many people struggling to keep up with housing costs.

As of September, there are 972 families on the United Counties of Prescott and Russell’s wait-list for low-income housing—149 more than at that same time last year. There are also 804 seniors on the wait-list—144 more as compared to last year. 

“When we talk about low-income housing, many people think it’s just for families but it’s also for seniors,” said Hawkesbury Mayor Jeanne Charlebois during a United Counties of Prescott and Russell council meeting in late October.  

Despite the long wait list, there are currently no plans to build new units to try and close the gap.

Construction or rent supplement?

“We anticipate helping more through rent supplement than with construction,” says Anne Comtois-Lalonde, the UCPR’s director of social services. .

According to Comtois-Lalonde, due to the UCPR’s relatively small-sized social services department, it isn’t allocated enough money to make construction possible.

For a social housing project to be viable, she says, it requires a minimum of 25 units. Currently, the UCPR isn’t getting any financing for that type of large-scale project.

At its latest council meeting in late November, the Social Services Committee presented a report saying it will be getting funding through the province’s Investment in Affordable Housing program.  

According to the report, the funding would likely allow for the construction of a six-unit building; instead, the committee recommended using the funds for the UCPR’s rent supplement program.

“The rent supplement component is favoured since this funding can be applied anywhere in the counties, allowing us to help many people, unlike a six-unit building built in one place,” reads the report.

In a follow-up interview, Comtois-Lalonde said the total funding was a little more than $900,000, but only a portion of that would be going towards rent supplement. Comtois-Lalonde said it would help about 51 families across Prescott-Russell.

But that doesn’t resolve the plight of seniors on the wait-list.

Looking long term

Asked if there would need to be more construction in the long run, she said there have been partnerships with private builders in the past where tenants then go through the UCPR’s social services.

One example of these partnerships is the 45-unit Centre J. Urgel Forget in Embrun, which has recently been approved for an expansion.

Overall, though, Comtois-Lalonde said, “There hasn’t been a willingness for new buildings on behalf of the United Counties.”

Russell Mayor Pierre Leroux highlighted that unwillingness at that council meeting in late October.

“We see that there are standards being increased by the province in other aspect of social housing… People are going to have to build, but I don’t think we have significant reserves for us to do that ourselves,” he said.

“So we’re entering another area where we may not be thinking long term here. That may be another area where we may have to start thinking of putting a reserve together to look out for these places down the road.”