One City purchases house to preserve affordable housing

One City Peterborough has just purchased a seven-bedroom house on Water Street, thereby ensuring the organization can continue to offer those seven bedrooms to individuals who likely wouldn’t be able to afford safe, suitable housing otherwise. The charity fundraised $135,000 to make the purchase, according to executive director Christian Harvey.

The sale of the house was made possible by Terry Kloosterman and her husband, Ben. They bought it in 2017 and turned it over to Warming Room Community Ministries (WRCM) to manage. WRCM was at the time also operating the city’s overflow homeless shelter.

The Kloostermans purchased the house with money inherited after Terry’s mother, Judy, died. “My mom was a real advocate of those who were living in poverty,” she says. “I wanted to use the inheritance to honour her.”

“We bought the house with the sole intention of the Warming Room managing it and housing people that would not normally be housed.”

Last year, WRCM evolved into One City, and the new charity continued to manage the house, renting out the rooms to people transitioning out of homelessness.

But the intention was always for One City to buy the house from the Kloostermans, and last month they were finally able to do that. “We basically sold it to them for the price that we bought it for,” says Terry Kloosterman.

For the seven current tenants at Judy’s on Water, as the house is called, rent is set according to the shelter allowance they receive from social assistance. The maximum shelter allowance for individuals on Ontario Works is $390. (That’s not quite enough to pay the mortgage and other bills — the City of Peterborough provides an additional subsidy through the provincial Home for Good program to close the gap.)

In Peterborough’s hot housing market, there are plenty of opportunities for investors to profit by redeveloping properties and increasing rents. This one house, at least, is now protected from that fate and permanently reserved for low-income tenants.

“We aren’t looking to say how can we use this house to make more money,” says Harvey. “It’s not so much an investment as it is a commitment to the marginalized.”

Judy’s on Water is the second house One City has purchased. The charity also manages another three properties on behalf of private landlords who want to make their houses available to low-income tenants. Altogether, One City is currently renting out 23 rooms in five houses.

Harvey says his organization is inspired by groups like the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust, which in 2019 moved quickly to purchase a Toronto rooming house that was at risk of being developed into more expensive housing.

“We’ve got to take housing off the market,” Harvey says. “As long as housing is seen as a commodity, and people are looking to make the biggest profit off it, less and less people will be able to afford it.”

Acquiring housing on the private market in order to preserve low rents is likely to be essential in the push for more affordable housing across Canada. That’s the takeaway from an analysis of housing data that researcher Steve Pomeroy published earlier this year. Pomeroy looked at Canadian housing data from 2011 and 2016, and what he found was sobering.

“Between 2011 and 2016,” Pomeroy writes, “the number of private rental units affordable to households earning less than $30,000 per year … declined by 322,600.”

In the same time period, Pomeroy notes, federal and provincial construction of affordable housing created just 20,000 such units. “So for every one new affordable unit created … fifteen existing private affordable units were lost,” he continues.

Pomeroy attributes this staggering loss of affordable units primarily to the financialization of housing — a term that describes an approach to housing that treats it not as a human dwelling or a human right (as the Canadian government formally recognized it in 2019) but as an investment vehicle, a financial asset often belonging to people who live elsewhere.

Pomeroy believes we can’t build new affordable housing units fast enough to make up for the units we’re losing, and so he’s been lobbying the federal government to take a different approach. He wants to see a new funding stream developed that would give community housing providers the quick access to financing they would need to compete with private developers to acquire housing on the market. It appears the federal government is considering the proposal.

This article was adapted from a Peterborough Currents email newsletter sent to our subscribers on July 16, 2020. It has been edited to fit the new context. To read the original newsletter, click here.

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