The Cochrane Society of Housing Options (CSHO) wants to work in partnership with the town to complete an Affordable Housing Action Plan to address the acute shortage of housing for those on a low income.
As it stands right now, Cochrane is not in a position to access federal and provincial housing funding streams to make more affordable housing available in the community.
At town council's Sept. 18 committee-of-the-whole meeting, CSHO executive director Kevin McDonald sought to work in concert with the town to complete the plan, estimated to cost $125,000. The request will be considered during the 2024 town budget process.
It also sought town-owned land to enable the development of 50 units or more in a central location. He believes the greater goal is to construct 60 to 80 units that would allow the economics of scales to not only offer more accommodations but also provide them at a more affordable rate.
"I think the best analogy for this one is that we are also going to have to learn how to build the plane while we're flying," McDonald told council. "In order to be shovel-ready for provincial and federal funding streams that will be released to construct new affordable housing stock, the most important thing to do right now for CSHO would be to secure land for the development."
He told council these are essential moves to capitalize on funding opportunities. Even with the completion of these steps, McDonald anticipates it would take 24 to 36 months to bring more housing onstream.
McDonald said there is no silver bullet or single solution to permanently solve this complex problem, nor does it rest with any single party.
"It's going to take collaboration and it will take the community to solve and build Cochrane to ensure that every citizen can start and end each day at home. The collaboration takes place between all levels of government, the private sector, and the public sector."
There would be three distinct areas examined in the completion of a living master plan, including the creation of a vibrant stakeholder group.
"We can begin to partner and answer some of the needs that they have and start bridging the gaps and ensuring that all of their vulnerable clients will have somewhere safe to go at the end of the day, and a safe, clean, secure place they can call home."
CSHO is an affordable housing provider and rent is set at 80 per cent of the Canada Mortgage and Housing (CMHC) average market rent for those with an annual income of less than $42,000 for a one-bedroom apartment.
It currently has 36 units that are a mixture of bachelor (3), one-bedroom (9), two-bedroom (16), and three-bedroom (8) units. All are occupied and there's a substantial waiting list that is updated every six months
It received over 140 applicants in 2022 and has already received 30 applications in the first quarter of 2023. Based on that trend, they anticipate receiving over 100 applications this year.
Of the current 62 active applicants on the waiting list, 60 per cent were homeless at the time of application, and 50 per cent are part of the "invisible" homeless population who are living with family and friends and have no fixed address.
Of the active applicants, 68 per cent reported an annual income of $15,000 to $30,000, 23 per cent had an annual income of $30,000 to $60,000, and seven per cent reported no income.
There was a surprising drop in those applying with an annual income of under $15,000, based upon aggregate data of over 330 applicants. That aggregate data indicates 25 per cent of the applicants reported an income of less than $15,000 but currently, only two per cent of the applicants are in that bracket.
"It begs the question of where has that 23 per cent gone?"
With a turnover rate of 11 per cent, about four units per year, it will take CSHO approximately 7.5 years to house the 30 individuals who have applied between Jan. 1 and Apr. 30 this year. It would take CSHO approximately 35 years to house the 140 individuals who applied during the 2022 calendar year
Kevin McDonald became CSHO executive director in December 2021. Previous to that, he dedicated his career to providing affordable housing options in Toronto and the Greater Toronto area.
"This is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, and I'm incredibly happy to be here, but housing affordability here, much like a lot of the other large metropolitan areas, has seen a rapid increase in what is asked for rent on a monthly basis over the last two years, according to RentFaster.ca," he told Cochrane Now in an interview this summer.
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