June 17, 2011

Treading Water

"We're not sinking. We're not drowning. We're treading water."

With those words Ken Seiling, chair of Waterloo Regional Council, summed up the fourth annual Waterloo Region Housing Stability Report Card.

I attended the Housing Stability report card launch this morning with my colleague Jessica Reesor Rempel, who manages MCCO's Circle of Friends program.

The report card is a project of the Homelessness to Housing Umbrella Group (HHUG) and is an integral part of the Waterloo Region's Housing Stability Strategy.

"What we feel is important, we have to measure," said the Hon. John Milloy, MPP Kitchener Centre and Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

Also in attendance were the three area MPs, Conservatives Peter Braid, Harold Albrecht and Stephen Woodworth.

Building affordable and supportive housing "represents a wise investment," Braid said, "because it saves costs in other areas."

That insight was echoed by Gay Slinger, a member of the HHUG board, in her presentation of the Report Card findings. Previous issues of the report card have documented that "there are tremendous savings in providing housing with support," she said.

Slinger explained that the Report Card measures the year to year change in housing stability indicators rather than the overall state of housing stability in the Region. The overall grade in 2010 was C+, marginal improvement. There was no change in the number of people experiencing homelessness between 2009 and 2010. There was some improvement in rental housing cost and incomes, reflecting the increase in the minimum wage to $10.25 an hour and social assistance adjustments that were just enough to keep pace with inflation. (The gap between what a minimum wage job or social assistance provides and the actual cost of housing still mains wide, however.) There was a marginal improvement in rental housing availability, but a slight worsening in support to maintain housing.

Slinger observed that the Report Card does not measure the commitment of Regional Council to the housing stability strategy. If it did, she said, the grade would be A+. That is a reflection of the decision of Regional Council to add more than $200,000 a year to housing stability program in it's 2011 budget.

But while the Region has stepped up it's financial commitment, Harold Albrecht said that federal stimulus money, which has helped to build 14,000 units of new affordable housing in the past couple of years, has come to a close. The federal government has shifted attention to deficit reduction and creating a low tax environment.

John Milloy pointed out that the Provincial Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy gives municipalities greater flexibility to use money for housing and homelessness programs to help people move from shelters into housing. While that is not an increase in funding for these programs, he said it should enable communities to reap the savings of moving people into stable housing more quickly.

The launch was well attended by area politicians. In addition to federal and provincial politicians and the Regional Chair, Waterloo Mayor Brenda Halloran and Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig spoke. Woolwich Mayor Todd Cowan and wJane Mitchell, a member of Regional Council representing the City of Waterloo and a strong supporter of housing, were also there. Frank Etherington (Kitchener City Council), Donna Reid (Cambridge City Counci), and Jeff Henry (Waterloo City Council) also attended.

The meeting wrapped up with a screening of the STEP Home video. Here it is:

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