Photo: A one-bedroom unit in this apartment building on Stittsville Main Street was offered for a monthly rent of $1,350 in October, far above the city average for a one-bedroom of $1,023. (Devyn Barrie photo)
Not one affordable rental unit has been built in Stittsville in at least 19 years, sparking concerns that a lack of housing choice will lessen diversity and equality in the community.
The statistic was included in a report over the summer, The State of Affordable Housing in Ottawa, by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. The report said the pace of new construction for affordable rental units across the city has slowed, even as rents increased by nearly a third in the past decade and vacancy rates tightened to their lowest point since 2011.
The definition of affordable housing varies by jurisdiction, but it broadly means housing which costs at or below 30 per cent of a household’s before-tax income.
A social worker at the Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre, which often assists residents with housing struggles, said she was not surprised to hear of the low pace of construction in the area.
“This is an issue that we have been concerned about for a long time,” said Martine Dore, senior manager of counselling and violence against women services at the WOCRC. “We are seeing clients who are spending 80 to 90 per cent of their income on housing… it doesn’t leave money for anything else.”
According to the ACORN report, low and moderate income tenants are being priced out of their communities by rising rents and gentrification. Although the report was generated in response to mass evictions in the south-end community of Heron Gate, it touches on issues felt even in west-end communities like Stittsville and Kanata.
Dore said the Stittsville area is seen as a desirable place to live, so developers cater to potential homeowners (or tenants) who can afford a higher price tag. As a result, housing that is affordable for people who make less is simply not available.
“Because it’s desirable, it should be accessible to all income levels,” she said.
A solution which the WOCRC and ACORN both endorse is what’s known as “inclusionary zoning” which would force developers to build low-cost housing in new developments. In theory, it would increase the supply of affordable housing in the community and provide more choice for people who cannot afford current prices.
Inclusionary zoning has wide political appeal — mayoral candidates Clive Doucet and Jim Watson have both promised to implement it if they are elected and 95 per cent of council candidates who responded to CBC Ottawa’s election survey said they supported it, including both of Stittsville’s candidates.
There is a limited supply of apartments, and a high demand for them, in the far west-end, according to the latest annual statistics (fall 2017) issued by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, a crown corporation that reports on the housing sector.
In the western Ottawa surrounding areas — a region which includes Kanata, Stittsville, Rideau-Goulbourn and West Carleton — there is a total of 1,550 apartment units of all types and prices (including exactly two bachelor pads). The average rent is $1,708 — far above the average of $1,113 for Ottawa.
The vacancy rate was 0.9 per cent, lower than the city average of 1.7 per cent. The vacancy rate is used to measure supply and demand in a rental market. A high vacancy rate means there is more supply of units than demand (thus a lower price), whereas a low vacancy rate means more people want units than are available (vice-versa).
Although the CHMC also reports on the availability of condos for rent, that data is grouped more broadly and does not provide a clear picture of what’s available in our area.
Dore said high rents are driving people out of the community in search of affordable homes.
“They’re being driven to areas that are more densely populated. People of lower income are being grouped together,” she said.”They’re being replaced by people with higher income. For me, at least, it is an issue of equity.”
Anecdotal information indicates that most rental housing available in the Stittsville area is for whole houses or rooms for let. A search on popular listing sites like PadMapper and Kijiji show rent for houses tends to be upwards of $1,600 a month. Rooms for let can vary quite a bit.
According to the 2016 Canadian census, the average monthly cost for rented dwellings in Stittsville was $1,486 while the cost for owned dwellings was $1,668 (70 per cent of owned homes in Stittsville still have a mortgage.)
But while the cost to rent is lower than to own, tenants in Stittsville are spending much more of their income on shelter. Census data revealed that 37 per cent of tenant households are spending 30 per cent or more of their income on shelter. That figure is 11 per cent for owned households.
There are approximately 780 tenant households and 9,840 owner households in Stittsville.
Many apartment buildings seen in this area cater to a higher income level. For example, a one-bedroom apartment in Poole Creek Manor, a stately apartment building on Stittsville Main Street, went for $1,350 in October — while the city average for a one-bedroom apartment was $1,023. In order for $1,350 to be considered affordable rent, a tenant would have to be making at least $54,000 annually.
Williams Court, a luxury apartment complex in Kanata on Maritime Way, has rents ranging from $1,365 to $4,500 a month. Park Ridge Place, the three-tower complex on Campeau Drive, rents starting from $1,495 for a one-bedroom and $2,000 for two bedrooms.
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