It should be no surprise to anyone that there is an acute shortage of affordable housing in SDG. The past five years – and especially the last two years of the pandemic – have seen purchase prices skyrocket. At the same time rental supply has shrunk, resulting in equally soaring prices. For those on the lower end of the economic ladder, renting an affordable home is becoming as unattainable as buying one.
This problem has been amplified by some existing landlords issuing wholesale evictions of their properties in order to renovate and then return to the rental market. When those properties become available again, the tenants can return at the same rate. But if those tenants receive compensation for leaving, the landlord can charge the market rent, which is a considerable increase compared to the normal capped annual rent increase landlords are allowed to charge. Since January 1, there have been at least five of these types of evictions with intent to renovate issued in SDG, and last week a large-scale eviction in Cornwall has many more people displaced and seeking rental housing.
Building new affordable housing is an area where Cornwall is leading, and SDG Counties is falling behind. The city established a Housing Task Force, has hired a firm to review existing housing stock in Cornwall, and has already contracted a builder to construct a 77-unit complex in the city. Much of the $17 million project will be financed by the city, which is also working on a plan to build 48 more housing units.
SDG Counties Council has had multiple delegations present regarding affordable housing issues. Last summer, SDG councillors agreed to strike a committee in the next term of council. Can people afford to wait until the October 2022 elections before any action is made? No.
The priorities of SDG Counties Council when it comes to spending is very clear. Forty-nine per cent of SDG’s $50 million budget in 2022 is dedicated to the Transportation Department. This year, it will spend over $12 million on capital roads projects. That figure includes $2.4 million agreed to February 28 using surpluses from 2021 to renew and repave more roads. These figures do not include capital projects for bridges and culverts, or capital equipment purchases.
Of the remaining 51 per cent of the budget, 40 per cent goes to the City of Cornwall under the shared services agreement. SDG contracts out services such as land ambulance and social assistance administration. That amount also covers SDG residents who stay at the Glen-Stor-Dun Lodge long-term care home, and operation of low-income housing. Operation does not mean constructing new, which is still the responsibility of the Counties. SDG council has been creative in funding its commitments to LTC homes in Winchester and Maxville, but that is essentially downloading further responsibility to another party.
SDG Counties has no problem spending money on roads. Councillors frequently comment that the Counties has great roads, that people rave about the quality of the roads. Having a great road to drive on is cold comfort to someone who struggles to afford a roof over their head, if they can even find one.