Editorial: Finding real affordable housing solutions isn’t about placing blame
With property values and the real estate market flying high – and we’re talking hot boxing with Snoop Dogg high – the inevitable discussion of affordable housing arises.
I always have trouble entering the fray of affordable housing arguments – especially when it comes to rental rates. There always seems to be a lot of fingers pointed at landlords, as if they’re the only ones responsible for fixing an issue that goes back decades.
The District of Muskoka has developed a ten-year plan to tackle this issue, which we will briefly discuss a little further down.
While I completely understand the need for affordable housing and rent that allows families to build their nest eggs; I don’t believe it should be completely put on a property owners’ shoulders. Or more specifically, home and building owners should not be responsible for subsidizing society’s rental needs.
The landlords are the ones who took the investment risk in the first place. The landlords are the ones who are responsible to fix maintenance issues, damage, take losses when renters don’t pay, and sometimes end up with absolute derelicts for tenants.
Tenants who know the ins and outs of the system and take full advantage of it: often hosting loud parties without regard for their neighbours, leaving damage, not paying rent and, in general, not giving a hoot about the place they live in because it’s someone else’s property.
I’m not saying it’s all tenants, but I’ve seen some pretty horrible renters as neighbours in my 40-plus ears on this planet. One was even a drug den in an otherwise quiet and friendly residential neighbourhood. Thankfully, that didn’t last long as the renters left on their own before the situation was elevated to the next level.
So, when you take all of this into consideration, it’s hard to blame landlords for jacking up rents, and getting what they can out of a market that will bear it.
On the flip side, there are some amazing and hardworking people out there who get shafted by unscrupulous landlords.
Perhaps they are forced out of a great place because the landlord finds someone willing to pay more, or the landlord refuses to fix items that broke because of wear and tear – often blaming their tenants to get out of forking over the cash, and the list goes on.
I have seen this side of things too and am aware the negative landlord-renter stories run both ways.
I personally know one couple many years ago who were blamed for what can only be called a mountain of mold growth – hidden by paint and wallpaper – only two months after moving into an apartment. How this one couple who had just moved in caused what normally takes years to accumulate is anyone’s guess.
Consider that I have been both a renter and a homeowner. While I wasn’t a bad tenant and always left the apartments in tip top condition – even doing a super deep clean before moving – there is nothing quite like the pride one takes in owning their own property.
Whether you own your home outright or are paying a mortgage, the bottom line is you develop a strong sense of pride in knowing you own your property. It leads to better confidence, feeling more secure, and even being a happier more productive employee because a lot of the the money you earn goes towards something that belongs to you.
So, when I hear the topic of affordable housing, my mind immediately thinks the conversation should be about affordable home ownership. And that’s where this real estate market on steroids is really doing a disservice to so many individuals and families.
While there seems to be a lot of doom and gloom, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of some very realistic ideas to help those in need.
There are people in the community and in government who care and are trying to find solutions. As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, the District of Muskoka has a solid ten year plan running through 2030 which if is successful will provide access to affordable housing – it’s part of their vision to find “Housing for Everyone.”
In fact, the plan states it’s not just about affordable housing, but attainable housing. What is attainable housing?
Well, according to the District it’s affordable (costing less than 30 per cent of before tax income); appropriate in size (enough bedrooms for those living in it); is adequate in condition (no major repairs needed); has access to services (located in areas where common services are available); and is available (with a range of housing types).
Read the whole plan: https://www.engagemuskoka.ca/10977/widgets/42586/documents/19401
One part of the District’s plan – which has been taking place for many years – is the first-time home buyer’s program. This program helps qualified first-time home buyers achieve their dream of home ownership by providing a forgivable loan (if certain terms are met) to act as a down payment.
This allows households with decent incomes but not enough of a down payment become homeowners, so their rent money now becomes mortgage payments.
While this is a great program and there are many families who have benefitted from it in the past, the current housing market is prohibitive for even those who can afford substantial down payments without help.
That’s where the community comes in – specifically the ideas from a group with a Facebook Page called Legalize Tiny Homes in Muskoka. I became a member a few months ago when my wife told me about it.
We had long thought about the affordability of tiny homes and perhaps putting them on our property to have for our loved ones when they become seniors (real seniors, not just super experienced adults).
According to the group, a “tiny home” is described by the Government of Ontario as a small, (greater than 188 sq') private and self-contained dwelling unit: with living and dining areas, kitchen and bathroom facilities, and a sleeping area, that is intended for year-round use.
With the attainable and affordable housing issue so prevalent, it makes sense that tiny homes can be another potential solution. Especially when it comes to home ownership.
However, this means the community and the municipal government must agree that tiny homes are welcome. It means that perhaps town lot sizes be adjusted when needed to allow for two separate lots each with a dwelling in a space that would normally be used for just one home.
It also means developers start looking at the idea of a tiny home community as an option for making a profit – while keeping the homes affordable for potential buyers.
And if you’ve seen the way they’re cramming units into these subdivisions like sardines in a can, it’s not like they don’t know how to develop a compact neighbourhood.
Going back to the rental side of this topic: welcoming tiny homes and adjusting bylaws to allow for them could also open doors for homeowners with a bit of empty property.
Just think of a family who owns an acre of land close to town where one, two or even three tiny homes could be built. Or someone in town with a double lot. They could build one, two or even three tiny homes and rented out at an affordable rate since the initial investment on each unit is relatively low.
This is just one potential solution to an issue that needs addressing sooner than later. But, as with anything, it will take a variety of our community members from different perspectives and walks of life to make it successful.
So, the next time the topic of affordable housing is discussed, don’t fall into the landlord versus tenant argument. Instead, take heart in knowing there are many people working on real solutions to the issue – and don’t be afraid to point it out.
By Chris Occhiuzzi, for HuntersBayRadio.com