HOUSING AS A DETERMINANT OF HEALTH
Having a home is one of the fundamental “social determinants of health”—factors beyond biology that influence a person’s health. Having a safe and secure place to live has been found to be a significant part of recovering from mental illness and addiction, and in gaining employment, food security, access to social services, and access to health care.
In 2016, just prior to the recent spike in housing costs, 27% of rental households in Waterloo Region lived in “core housing need”. That means they paid 30% or more of their before-tax income on shelter. This makes it hard to make ends meet, leading to trade-offs between rent and food, medicine, heat, and other necessities.
High housing cost is one of the most frequently cited causes of hunger and poor childhood nutrition. Senior citizens are especially vulnerable to increased health risks as a result of poor quality housing. In Waterloo Region 56% of single senior women lived in core housing need in 2016. It is doubtful that the situation has improved. Safe and affordable housing has been shown to help prolong the physical and mental health of older adults, especially those over 65.
HOUSING AS A BASIC HUMAN RIGHT
Article 11 of the UN identifies, “the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living…, including adequate food, clothing, and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.
There is urgency in Waterloo Region to address homelessness and the need for affordable housing. We are compelled to respond.
In Waterloo Region, current housing realities in the social safety net are troubling:
- The maximum shelter allowance for a single person on Ontario Disability Support Program is just $497.
- A single person on Ontario Works in Ontario receives $733 monthly.
- A single person with one child on Ontario Works has a maximum shelter allowance of $642.
- A single senior living on the Guaranteed Annual Income System receives a maximum of $1,613 monthly.
- Skyrocketing house prices have made homeownership unattainable for many, and in turn, have driven the demand for rental housing.
- The average one-bedroom apartment rent is $1,045 per month. A two-bedroom apartment has reached an average of $1,231 per month.
- In 2019 vacancy rates fell to 2%. Not surprisingly, in Waterloo Region, nearly 5000 households—up from 3000 households in 2016—are on the waiting list for affordable housing.
A UNIQUE PARTNERSHIP
Partnership is the way forward for not-for-profit organizations today. Not only does collaboration spread the work and cost, but it also fosters creative problem-solving and innovation. MennoHomes’ new project at Bridgeport and Lancaster is a partnership with St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and Parents for Community Living.
MennoHomes is an independent non-profit charitable organization that has been providing high-quality affordable housing in Waterloo Region since 2001. In many cases, the organization has worked in partnership with other community groups. Today, MennoHomes operates 105 rental units, including apartments, townhouses, and houses.
The MennoHomes business model is simple and highly effective. For each project, construction costs are covered by a combination of government grants, private donations, and a mortgage. Ongoing operating costs, including servicing the mortgage, are covered by rental income. The more money raised at the construction phase, the lower the mortgage, and therefore the lower the rents on an ongoing basis. In addition to providing high-quality housing, MennoHomes employs a social worker to help strengthen communities by supporting them to thrive.
St. Paul’s has been an integral part of the Bridgeport community since 1861. The current facility was built in 1956 and has been a gathering place for both worship and community groups for many decades. Among activities taking place at the church are Meals on Wheels, Girl Guides, ballroom dancing classes, and Tai Chi classes.
In 2015 the church began to explore a new model that would be sustainable for the congregation and continue to serve community needs. Ultimately the decision was made to redevelop the land in partnership with MennoHomes, creating a worship space, a community hub, and affordable housing.
Affordable housing is a challenge for many, but a special challenge for people living with disabilities. In 2017 there were almost 16,000 people with developmental disabilities looking for residential placement in Ontario, with more than 500 in Waterloo Region.
Parents for Community Living was founded in 1986 with the goal of creating housing where developmentally challenged adults could live safely and comfortably and become valued members of the community. The organization now operates 11 homes serving 40 adults and six children. PCL will support the creation of a Community Room and Kitchen in the first phase of the project
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