New report paints dire picture of Waterloo Region's affordable housing crisis

A new report from the Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation paints a dire picture about the state of affordable housing in the region.

The foundation's Vital Signs report outlines a series of key findings, including a disconnect between the region's population boom and new builds, high prices for homes and rental units, a deep shortage of subsidized housing and declining job quality.

"Not a surprise to many that there is a crisis happening, but I think the surprise in the data is just to what extent," said Elizabeth Heald, the foundation's president.

The full report can be read here.

POPULATION BOOM VS. NEW BUILDS

According to the report, Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo was the fastest-growing metropolitan area in all of Canada over the last five years. The region grew by 12 per cent from July 2015 to 2020.

Despite the boom, new home building has lagged.

From 2016 to 2020, 63,712 people moved to the region but only 20,259 new housing builds were started.

"It's short to where they would like it to be to be able to compensate for this level of population growth," said Steve Ayer, the report's lead author and researcher.

What's more, the report found less than one in five new homes are intended for the rental market.

SURGING HOME AND RENTAL PRICES

Kitchener Waterloo had the second-highest price growth within Canada's major markets between January 2015 and July 2021, the report shows.

Citing the MLS Home Price Index, home prices in Kitchener-Waterloo spiked 282 per cent from January 2005 to July 2021. That marks a jump from an average price of $196,000 in 2005 to $749,000 in July of this year.

In 2005, home prices were three times higher than the median total household income. In 2021, they were 8.6 times higher.

Rental prices have also soared.

The report found a bachelor apartment could be rented for about $489 per month in 2008. That's since risen 122 per cent to about $1,089, according to data in the report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporations.

'DEEP' SHORTAGE OF SUBSIDIZED HOUSING

The report outlines "deep" shortages of subsidized and community housing in Waterloo Region.

Waitlists for those in supportive housing are backlogged. There's currently a three- to five-year waitlist for mental health supports and a 2.5- to 4.5-year waitlist for addiction-supported housing, the report said.

In 2017, the waitlist for community housing was 7.9 years. That wait time was 3.8 years in 2011.

The report also found 63 per cent of community housing in Waterloo Region was operated by non-profit organizations and co-ops.

DECLINING JOB QUALITY

Between 2006 and 2019, temporary jobs grew 2.6 times faster than full-time, permanent jobs, the report found. Self-employment also grew 2.4 times faster and part-time jobs grew 1.9 times faster.

Incomes are also declining for young people and staying flat for most in the region, according to the report.

From 2005 to 2015, the median total household income in Waterloo Region increased by only 1.6 per cent, adjusted for inflation.

Between 2005 and 2019, the real income of individuals 25 to 34 declined between five and 14 per cent for couples and singles, the report shows.

IMPACT ON RACIALIZED RESIDENTS

The report also found racialized residents and immigrants face greater challenges relating to affordable housing.

In 2016, racialized individuals in Waterloo Region had median total incomes of 63 cents for every dollar of non-racialized incomes, the report found.

Racialized individuals are also more likely to spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing.

Meanwhile, the report also showed recent immigrant households are six times more likely to live in overcrowded conditions than non-immigrants.

POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS

The report outlines a series of ideas to address the affordable housing crisis, including inclusionary zoning expansion throughout Waterloo Region, working with the federal government to introduce a vacancy tax and developing more mixed housing models.

Heald said she hopes the issues associated with affordable housing will be addressed through community action.

"It could be, do you have a room for a secondary suite or a tiny home in your backyard?" she said.

The report states while changes are being made at the municipal, regional and provincial levels, more needs to happen and faster.

With files from CTV Kitchener's Carmen Wong.