Make Housing Affordable Rather Than Making Affordable Housing

written by Elisha Rubacha

Peterborough is in the midst of a housing crisis. Insufficient incomes, whether from wages or social assistance benefits, leave 52.5% of renter households in Peterborough in “core housing need”. That means they spend more than 30% of their total income on shelter costs. The amount of core housing need has been rising steadily with each subsequent census.

Core Housing Need Chart

The social housing waitlist now has 1642 names, 179 more than last year. This problem is made worse by the fact that Peterborough has an extremely low vacancy rate of 1%, one of the lowest in Ontario, leaving few options for people in search of housing.

I had the opportunity to speak to Paul Armstrong, author of the Housing is Fundamental report and one of Peterborough’s most notable housing advocates. Although many insist we need new affordable housing units, he believes that we should “make housing affordable rather than making affordable housing”. He would like to see the City use their federal and provincial “Investment in Affordable Housing” dollars to increase the availability of portable rent supplements.

These subsidies, paid directly to the tenant, bridge the difference between a tenant's rent and the market rent. Portable rent supplements create affordability where people are already housed, and do not come with the large capital costs associated with developing affordable housing. They are an investment in people rather than infrastructure, and ultimately free up money that would’ve been spent on rent to instead be spent on things like food and other necessities. 

This innovative and flexible approach is already in practice, but its scope is very limited. By redirecting the existing funding to portable rent supplements, the City could have a much greater impact on the people who need it most.