Northumberland County Strives for Sustainable Community Housing

In City Hall

By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
The challenges of ensuring a strong community-housing program in Northumberland County were spelled out for county council’s Social Services Committee at its July meeting,

This was the occasion for a presentation on the new Community Housing Master Plan and the Northumberland Community Housing Corporation Asset Management Plan. The consultant, HSC Business Solutions, sent representatives Judy Lightbound and Lisa Oliviera to share their findings. This work began in 2020 and was delayed by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oliviera addressed the Community Housing Master Plan, which was undertaken to address the challenges surrounding sustainability and growth in offering this service. The extensive assessment-and-analysis work included engaging with more than 500 individuals.

At this time, more than 700 individuals and families inhabit community housing, which is defined as a type of affordable housing option that provides rent-geared-to-income and affordable (typically low-end market rent) units for households with low to moderate incomes. This service is regulated under the Housing Services Act 2011, which designates the county as the service system manager for this commodity – which is delivered by three broad housing provider groups: non-profits, co-operatives and NCHC.

Of the county’s 773 units in its community housing stock, one co-operative housing provider accounts for 78 units. Eight non-profit housing providers account for 369 units, while NCHC accounts for 344. The number is already growing, as the 18 units in the Elgin Park property are being redeveloped into 40 units. The mix among these units is 85.1% rent-geared-to-income (in which a household pays no more than 30% of its income on housing costs) and 15.1% are affordable.

Oliviera identified four trends.

The changing community-housing landscapes includes the new regulatory community-housing renewal framework provisions in new provincial legislation, the Provincial Housing Services Act.

The demand for community housing is increasing. The Northumberland waitlist has more than tripled in the last decade, with more than 1,000 now waiting.

The aging stock of housing means a total estimated repair cost of $47-million over the next decade. The average age of non-profit-sector assets is about 32 years, and the average age of NCHC assets is about 49 years.

And the need to improve financial viability is a challenge when some community housing providers are struggling to remain self-sustaining.

Over the next six years, there will be four key priorities – quality of service, quality of housing, sustainability of community housing and enabling growth. A set of associated actions has been provided for each of these.

Lightbound addressed the NCHC Asset Management Plan aimed at achieving long-term sustainability.

Of the aging NCHC assets, 69% have a Facilities Condition Index rating of Poor, while 15% are rated Critical. The forecasted capital need to address this through 2031 is $18.8-million.

The county’s 2019 Affordable Housing Strategy set the aspirational goal of expanding community-housing capacity by 52 units each year. This can mean building and purchasing, as well as exploring innovative partnerships.

Housing Services Manager Rebecca Carman outlined other innovations that are increasingly being explored – such as including a sector of units rented at market rates in such developments as the Elgin Park redevelopment, whose 40 units will include 12 at market rent to offset the RGI and affordable units. Another Cobourg project planned on Elgin Street in partnership with Alderville First Nation and Habitat for Humanity Northumberland will have market rent in one-third of its units.

They are also taking pains with new construction to ensure methods and materials with optimal longevity, she added.

And speaking of partners, Chief Administrative Officer Jennifer Moore added, the provincial and Federal governments must come to the table.

“Right now, we are far and away bearing the vast majority of housing-related costs,” Moore pointed out.

“We will be continuing to advocate for provincial and Federal governments to increase their component.”

Cecilia Nasmith
Author: Cecilia Nasmith

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