(File photo).

More than 1,000 families now on Prescott-Russell housing services waitlist

For the third year in a row, the number of families waiting for social housing in Prescott-Russell has grown. As of September 2018 (the latest figures), there are 1,076 families on the waitlist—an additional 150 since December of last year.  

It’s been six years in a row—at least—that the list grows for seniors as well; in fact, it’s more than doubled since 2013, from 321 to 806.

Despite this, the number of social housing units operated by the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) has remained stagnant at 311 — 166 units for families and 145 for seniors. The last time public housing was built in Prescott-Russell was in 1992. In 2001, the province transferred housing responsibilities to municipalities and the department of social services has never built or acquired more units.

To be clear, the department also has private partnerships to control rent prices. With those partnerships, Anne Comtois-Lalonde, the UCPR’s director of social services, says the department has more than 1,000 rent-controlled units.

The UCPR is already facing a significant social housing shortage—and it will only grow if the numbers continue their current trend. That’s certainly likely given the aging population of the region.

“There’s less movement for units for people 60 and over,” says Comtois-Lalonde. With a stable, often low, pension, she adds, seniors who have access to a unit are much more likely to stay.

The Review spoke with Comtois-Lalonde to get a sense of how the waitlist is managed.

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Eligibility

For starters, she says the majority of people on the list come through the Ontario Works program, which is also the UCPR’s responsibility. For example, as of September there were 985 Ontario Works cases and all of them are automatically eligible for housing services but they’re not automatically added to the waitlist.

Housing services applicants not part of Ontario Works don’t need to show their revenue but they might also fall under a certain threshold when applying.

“It’s rare that someone with high revenues will apply just for the sake of it,” says Comtois-Lalonde.

Prioritization

Through partnerships with other community organizations, victims of domestic violence are given priority to an open unit.

Otherwise, Comtois-Lalonde says there is no other triage process.

When a person or family is offered a suitable unit, they’re allowed to refuse but after two refusals they are then placed at the bottom of the list.

Check-ins

Once in a unit, you’re required to report your monthly revenue to the social services department. Your rent is indexed on that number and cannot exceed 30 per cent of your revenue.

Comtois-Lalonde says there is no time limit to how long people can be part of social services as long as they provide the required documentation they remain eligible.

If your revenue changes such that you no longer require housing services, you’re not kicked out. Rather, your rent just increases to the market value.

This somewhat defeats the purpose since housing services now loses a rent-controlled unit. Asked if forcing people to vacate could be a recourse to move the waitlist along, Comtois-Lalonde says the department is following the province’s rules.


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Overhoused

Let’s say you move into a three-bedroom home as a young family. Ten years later, your kids have grown up and moved out. You may now be considered “overhoused.”

In this case, the social services department may transfer you to a smaller unit better suited to your needs. Then a new family could take over the previous home.

Similarly to revenue reports, families must also say if there are fewer people living in the unit.

Comtois-Lalonde says the department doesn’t know how many cases of overhousing there have been but maintains that it doesn’t happen very often.

A long lineup

It’s hard to describe the housing waitlist without using the old adage: one step forward, two steps back, though in this case it’s more like three or four steps.

Last year, there were 38 seniors — about 30 families and nine couples without kids or individuals who found appropriate housing through the program. But as mentioned above, the growing waitlist figures dwarf those finding a new home.

In that same time there were 116 new senior applicants, 84 families and 97 couples without kids or individuals.  

Between 2014 and September 2018, housing services brought in about $7 million in revenues. Despite this, the department says this figure is nowhere near enough to match the costs of the program. This year alone, the UCPR still has to contribute $3.86 million in addition to revenues to cover the costs.

Waiting on funding for new buildings hasn’t amounted to much. Thousands are struggling to find adequate, affordable housing in the region. Whether it is building new units or making more partnerships with private renters, something needs to be done because the status quo shows the waitlist will only get longer as the average resident gets older.


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