How regional government can help to alleviate poverty – Part 2

Part 2 in a 5-part series

(note the introduction to each of these blog entries is the same; skip down to the sub-heading to avoid the repetition)

Given last week’s announcements of:

it’s imperative that we talk more about what Niagara Regional government can do to alleviate poverty.

The alleviation of poverty is a concern for everyone to whom I’ve spoken. This has been true not only since I filed my nomination papers in May, but since I was on St. Catharines City Council (where I asked for a report about what a living wage would be in St. Catharines and how we could advocate for it, then was invited to join the Niagara Poverty Reduction Network‘s Wages and Work workgroup) and then went on to work at YWCA Niagara Region as their fundraiser.

Throughout the business community, the community of non-profit agencies, and at people’s doors, people are thinking about what we can do to alleviate poverty. In 2013, the cost of the consequences of poverty in Niagara is $1.38 billion per year. With the use of homeless shelters and food banks increasing every year, we know that this cost has only increased.

Poverty is an obviously complex problem that requires the expertise and support of numerous people, agencies, and initiatives.

Through this series of blog posts, I will share some ideas for what Niagara Regional government can do to alleviate poverty.

Part 1 – Transit
Part 2 – Affordable Housing
Part 3 – Public Health
Part 4 – Infrastructure Gap
Part 5 – Data

Affordable Housing

Niagara Region – through Niagara Regional Housing (NRH) – currently provides affordable housing to approximately 15,000 residents…and there’s still a waiting list of more than a decade (on average) for affordable housing in Niagara. The calls for more affordable housing have been on record for almost as long as the calls for a more robust transit system in Niagara.

We need a coordinated housing strategy throughout the region that places or keeps people in a wide cross-section of neighbourhoods in each municipality. Communities prosper when they realize both industrial and neighbourhood diversity.

If we are to see a coordinated housing strategy come to fruition, then – addition to owning and managing thousands of affordable housing units across Niagara – there is a need for the construction of affordable housing by the Region and through community partnerships, and it has to be done in a way that intensifies and diversifies development.

While the Region can build some affordable housing, they cannot be in the business of building all of the units necessary to serve our communities. It’s far too expensive a venture. Rather, we need to be finding more creative solutions (like the one I linked to above with Bethlehem Housing), and we need to be working with developers and existing landlords to increase the stock of affordable housing.

For years, when making presentations to various councils, housing providers and people working in poverty reduction have been calling for more integrated housing. To accomplish this, we will need to review and revise Niagara’s Official Plan, which is coming up for review in 2019, to include affordable housing requirements and targets.

With developers, we should be requiring that a specific percentage of all new developments that include housing are affordable housing units. This number might be 10% of units in a development that include housing, it might be 30%. We can work with the experts in housing and poverty to determine what the appropriate target is.

But before we even do that, existing landlords and property owners can help as well. We can better communicate how offering housing at affordable rates benefits them, in that NRH or another housing provider would be their official tenant, and they (NRH or the housing provider) would take responsibility for moving tenants into and out of the units, as well as look after repairs, etc. With NRH or another housing provider as the official tenant, concerns about non-payment of rent would also be alleviated for the landlord. Ultimately, the landlord would save the time and costs of advertising, repairs, finding tenants, etc., which would result in a probable savings of money, even after reducing the rental cost to what is considered an affordable rate.

When people have safe, affordable housing for themselves and their families, they are better able and equipped to seek and maintain gainful employment, and we know that stable, meaningful employment is the best path out of poverty.

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