• Thursday , 16 August 2018

Soaring rents in Barrie are making affordable housing an election issue

Julio De La Cruz has been on the list, waiting for affordable housing for three-and-a-half years. He’s supposed to hear back this month but he’s not too optimistic he’ll get good news.

All the waiting has made him skeptical that any politician can fix it.

“They start knocking on your door. Vote for me. Vote for them. What about when you need a place to go? They don’t see you,” he said.

“You gotta help the little guy …Politicians forget about those people that really need help.”

Julio De La Cruz can’t afford to rent or buy in Barrie; he’s currently in transitional housing at the Salvation Army. ‘I’m one of the fortunate ones because I do have a place,’ he says. (CBC)

De La Cruz lives in a transitional unit at the Salvation Army shelter in downtown Barrie, Ont., unable to afford a space anywhere else. He was just hired in the kitchen at the Salvation Army, where he had been volunteering. His story is a common one in a city coping with an affordable housing “crisis.”

As Barrie has boomed in population, demand for housing has spiked too, putting it out of reach for many in the city, which is home to about 150,000 people, 110 kilometres north of Toronto.

Last month, the city was the fourth most expensive place to rent in the country according to Padmapper, behind Vancouver, Toronto and Burnaby, B.C. One bedroom rents in Barrie averaged $1,380. The price of buying a detached home averaged about $500,000 in 2017.

“It’s not affordable,” De La Cruz said. 

“You end up living in a rooming house and sometimes it’s not the safest place to live … It’s a struggle for those who have no places to go.”

Parties pledge more money, support

The issue has come up on the campaign trail — CBC readers flagged it as one of the major topics to cover in this election. The four major parties have all addressed it too, pledging more money and support.

But advocates in Barrie think even more can be done provincially.

Geoff Halford, a local broker and president of the Barrie and District Association of Realtors, is pushing for the next government to help fast-track the building of affordable mid-range homes for families, so they can move out of the rental market and free it up for others.

Though he said local housing prices have stabilized since last year, he admits they are still out of reach for many.

“There’s not enough new units being created to accommodate them so the prices just keep going up.”

Party promises on affordable housing

  • Greens: Require new developments to have minimum 20 per cent affordable homes, $200M for shelters, supportive housing
  • Liberals: Adding $1B a year for affordable housing, $3M to establish co-op housing fund
  • NDP: 65,000 affordable housing units over 10 years
  • PCs: Increase housing supply, cut red tape, maintain status quo on rent control protections

At a municipal level, the city launched a 10-year plan to build 840 affordable housing units by 2024 and is requiring at least 10 per cent of any new units built in Barrie to be affordable housing.

But it’s not enough yet.

Tim Kent was in the construction business and noticed the shortage. So he started Redwood Park Communities with his wife Rhonda, a charity which develops affordable housing.

He too believes governments — both municipally and provincially — should cut red tape for developers. He suggests loosening up zoning rules so alternative housing options can be built on existing properties. 

Tim Kent opens the door to Barr’s Motel in Barrie, where he is developing affordable housing units. (CBC)

This means laneway homes, tiny houses and homes in shipping containers — alternatives that have come up in other Ontario cities. The Kents are doing their part, currently retrofitting an old rundown motel in Barrie and turning it into 12 affordable bachelor apartments.

Rhonda Kent wants to take it further.

She wants a commitment from whomever wins Thursday to take affordable housing seriously.

And that doesn’t mean creating “silos of housing,” she said. 

“We think about bricks and mortar and I think we need to think beyond that. We need to think about community.”

Watch CBC’s affordable housing panel

CBC’s provincial elections team travelled to Barrie and hosted a panel discussion on affordable housing as an election issue. De La Cruz, Halford and the Kents took part. Watch it below:

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