Anglicans urged to make affordable housing a key election issue

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By on September 1, 2022

The Homelessness and Affordable Housing Working Group (HAHWG) is appealing to Anglicans throughout the diocese to support advocacy initiatives during election campaigns this fall.

Ontario municipalities go the polls to elect mayors and councils on Oct. 24. Quebec voters have a provincial election on Oct. 3.

Research shows that homelessness and the need for unavailable affordable housing have increased during the pandemic. The situation is even more acute in areas of the diocese outside Ottawa than in the city.

HAHWG Chair Sue Garvey says the elections will be critically important. “A safe, affordable home is becoming further and further out of reach for people across our diocese,” she says. “We need to elect leaders in our urban, suburban and rural communities who have a commitment and a plan to promote housing affordability as a top priority.”

An information package will be made available to parishes during September, and it will be posted on the Diocese’s website. It will include suggested questions for candidates.  

HAHWG’s appeal is in line with the commitment of the church in 2013 to encourage members to pray, learn, advocate and act on behalf of homelessness and affordable housing.

The Diocese has endorsed the non-partisan “Starts With Home” campaign by the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa and expects to support advocacy by other groups, including the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association. More than 12,500 people are on the waiting list for subsidized housing in the city. The alliance says the need has grown since city council declared a housing emergency in January 2020.

The situation is worse across the diocese outside Ottawa. There are more than 25,000 on the combined waiting lists of the four counties in Ontario and the Outaouais region of Quebec.

The county of Stormont, Dundas, Glengarry including the City of Cornwall with a total population of 119,000 has more than 22,000 on its waiting list, up sharply from 9,000 before the pandemic. “It’s a frightening number that often makes people feel overwhelmed and out of reach,” says Taylor Seguin, executive director of the Diocese’s Community Ministry, Centre 105 in Cornwall. 

There are more than 900 on the waiting list for the United Counties of Prescott and Russell; 964 in Renfrew County and 745 in Lanark County where wait time is up to eight years.

The Rev. Canon Catherine Ascah, rector of St John the Evangelist parish in Smith Falls, points out that rural homelessness isn’t as visible in rural areas. 

There are usually no shelters.  People are not seen sleeping on the streets. But they are precariously housed, couch surfing or staying with friends.

In Cornwall, Centre 105’s Seguin says, there has been a shift from “hidden homelessness” to very visible as people are seen sleeping at bus stops, park benches and in unlocked ATM locations.

In Quebec, the Popular Action Front in Urban Redevelopment (FRAPRU) is calling on all candidates in the Oct. 3 provincial election to commit to creating 500,000 new social housing units across the province over five years. Many in the Outaouais are living in temporary accommodation and are relying on help from community organizations, FRAPRU says.

The social development organization TDSCO (la Table de developpement social des Collines-de-l’Outaouais) conducted a study last year on housing in the regional municipality MRC les Collines-de-l’Outaouais (Chelsea, Wakefield, Pontiac).

The study found a lack of affordable and social housing, particularly for seniors and those living alone. The MRC is acting on its recommendation to hire a housing specialist to work with all the MRC’s local municipalities and interest groups and create an action plan.

The TDSCO’s report concluded: “As a result of stagnation of public affordable housing and municipal actors’ lack of means to deal with unaffordability the responsibility seems to have fallen on citizen groups who are the only ones developing social housing projects.”

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