By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—After posing a question to different social media groups throughout Haldimand County looking for some perspective on just how much of an issue affordable housing is locally, The Haldimand Press received an overwhelming response.
Dozens of comments, stories, and heartfelt statements flooded in from Haldimand residents who are currently facing, or fearing, housing instability brought on by rising costs in Haldimand County and beyond. This is part one of a two-part look at the issue, and will focus on sharing just some the many stories that were sent to us.
“To be quite honest I feel like I’ve lost faith in humanity,” said Cassie Dawn, a mother of two, who says that her family is currently divided into three separate households in three different cities while she searches for an affordable home for them all. “My mental health is hanging by a thread, and the only thing keeping me going is getting my family back together.”
Cassie recently went through school to become a PSW with the hopes of finding a fulfilling career helping others, but she has found herself being put in a position where more than half of her monthly income would go towards rent. She claims her family has had to move six times in the last 10 years due to landlords using loopholes to remove them and then relist at a higher price.
She described the futility of her search so far: “I’ve looked at multiple houses in the McClung area, where I’ve provided them all of my information, got approved, and then the landlord/realtor comes along before we sign papers and says another family has offered six to 12 months up front and if I can’t match it then I lose out on the house. Six months at $2,500/month is $15,000. If I had that up front than I would have looked into possibly getting a mortgage.”
Suzanne Wilkins, a former frontline health care worker, said she is facing the threat of housing insecurity for the first time in her life. She moved to Dunnville eight years ago to a two-bedroom, accessible townhouse on a quiet cul-de-sac that she calls “probably the best place I have ever lived.”
With reasonable rent suited to her fixed income as a disabled senior, she can comfortably afford to pay for her rent, utilities, a small car lease, and a healthy diet, with the occasional flourish for the movies or donating to a charity. This is going to change, however, since in 2017 the County granted permission to the owner of the building to change the designation from townhouses to condominiums, and Wilkins was told she could only continue renting for five more years.
“That means that by 2022, I will need to have purchased the unit or move to alternate accommodations,” she said. Within the current market, she fears she will not find a suitable, accessible home within her budget by that time. She doesn’t want to face the possibility of being forced to leave Dunnville, the community she loves and volunteers in, including serving as an essential caregiver for a dear friend at Grandview Lodge.
“Mostly, I think I just took it for granted that I would always have safe, affordable housing. I had a career that was ended prematurely by a very serious illness before I was able to save sufficient funds or build equity in a home,” she explained. “Now I am wondering: next summer, will I be couch surfing like others who have not found affordable housing or really any housing at all?”
Rick and Debbie Mitchell were given a verbal notice in December 2020 followed by an official eviction letter in February, citing the need for the landlord’s stepdaughter to move in to their Dunnville apartment for medical reasons. They have found themselves scrambling to find a suitable home before their final extension date of October 31 arrives: “We looked at a place on Highway 54 that was advertised for $2,200. Close to 90 people looked at it and the rent was bid up to $3,600,” said the couple. “We’ve had multiple nervous breakdowns, anxiety, depression.”
Darlene Sabo spoke of her nephew, who was forced out of his St. Catharines rental and had to rely on a verbal agreement with a new landlady to rent a home near his work, which Sabo claims was reneged just days before he was set to move in: “She told him the deal was off, that she found out she could get a lot of money by selling this home…. His parents spent hours trying to find something for him with no luck. They finally ended up putting their little camper trailer in one of the trailer parks in Dunnville, and that was only because the lady who owned the park was kind enough to make a temporary space for him.” Ultimately the family secured a small apartment through a friend, but any attempt they make to rent a home more suitable to their needs ends with a bidding war that pushes the home out of their affordability.
Then there’s Bob Ecker, who worked heavy labour jobs for 30 years, destroying his back in the process and driving him into disability, where he receives $1,169/month in support: “I’m not the least bit proud of it, but it is what it is. I was used to making between $50-60,000 per year,” he said, noting that his ODSP payouts add up to $13,800/year. “I can’t even pay rent, let alone anything else. I am not whining, just stating a fact. I have blown through all of my savings in the past three years I have been on ODSP.”
Ecker said he is only a few short months from living in a tent. Unfortunately, those in these desperate situations are often finding help is a long way away.
Heather Anne of Caledonia was told she could be on a government waitlist for affordable housing for up to three years: “I was told by my intake coordinator, about four months ago, they have around 400 families waiting for a home.”
Look for part two of this story next week, delving into existing supports in the community for those at risk, and how various organizations are attempting to tackle this growing problem.