PERTH - Homes for the homeless is often easier said than done.
“It sounds simple, (but) it is an onerous task,” said Sandy Grey, social housing manager for Lanark County.
Grey, along with her fellow county workers, were discussing the “Housing and Homelessness 10 Year Plan” at the Tools for Rural Housing Development conference at the Perth Civitan Club hall on Thursday, Feb. 7, which was sponsored by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
She called it a “local plan with a local flavour,” with the ultimate goal of moving “families towards self-sufficiency,” and to “provide safe housing first and then address other issues,” such as addictions and unemployment.
“We consider 30 per cent of income (spent) on housing as affordable,” she said.
She pointed out that there appeared to be a spectrum ranging from homelessness to home ownership on the other end, with stops like social housing and renting and other stations in between.
“We are still in the information-gathering stage of the program,” said Grey.
Focus groups, involving seniors and youth, were held in December of 2012, and community meetings have also been held. The county is also working with a consultant to formulate its plans, and more than 100 surveys have been returned to the county offices so far.
The draft housing and homelessness plan is scheduled to go before county council in June, and to the province in September.
Amongst the challenges already being clearly identified is the growth in the seniors population, and growth of part-time service jobs, while “utility costs seem to keep rising up, and rents too.”
While some areas of the county could be confused for an Ottawa suburb, others are very rural, and that makes it hard to find housing.
“(It is) very hard to get affordable housing units in rural areas,” said Grey. “The housing market in Carleton Place is quite different than the housing market in Smiths Falls,” said Grey, as it is different in rural areas as well.
What housing there is tends to be older too, and in poor condition. Meanwhile, the people who most need the programs being offered to help, are most likely to be aware that those programs even exist.
“When we are doing our plan, we have to be realistic of the resources we have,” said Grey.
While the county received $1,846,256 in affordable housing money from the province, the county had to determine if that money got put into creating new housing or renovating existing housing stock.
“We just didn’t have adequate funding to build new housing,” said Grey. “That might we will be looking at next time.”
Lanark County Warden Bill Dobson welcomed Grey’s remarks, and, alluding to the ongoing Villa Montague saga on the Smiths Falls/Montague Township border, he noted that “the built-up areas have the services. They have laws that will not allow their services to go beyond their boundaries. If they did, I think we would have more chances of having affordable housing.”
While Dobson decried that anyone should be homeless, he also chided those who were not in real need of social housing for taking up a spot that should go to someone more deserving.
“There are too many people who abuse the system,” said Dobson. “They know how to address the Tenancy Act. You have landlords who have lost too much money and they don’t want to continue to rent.”