New report shows northern Ontario housing crisis

A low-income tenant advocacy group is warning the north is currently in a crisis when it comes to affordable housing.

A report from the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO) highlights seven areas of concern for housing in northern Ontario that act as barriers for low- to medium-income residents to find affordable and quality housing.

"A lot of housing that is already there is now over 40 years old, especially when we're talking rental housing," said Magda Barrera, housing and economics policy analyst for ACTO. "So leaving aside issues of affordability, there just isn't much there, in terms of quality and homes not in deterioration."

Data from ACTO's report indicates all but Sudbury and Thunder Bay suffered population decline between 2011 and 2016.

Coupled with pricier costs to build new homes in northern Ontario than the south, Barrera said attracting developers to create affordable housing units is a challenge.

"That's the biggest disincentive for building new anything," she said. "Particularly affordable housing, because you're not going to recoup lost money."

The report was compiled in partnership with Advocacy North, a group of northern legal clinics.

At the Algoma Community Legal Clinic, its executive director said the report is indicative of the north's housing crisis.

"We have an ethical obligation to house people," said Nuala Kenny. "It's a basic human right, it's not something that should be for the privileged few."

In comparison to small- and medium-sized markets in the south, northern Ontario's average housing prices are relatively affordable.

Yet, Kenny said those prices are a bit of an illusion, with a lack of opportunity and debt making home ownership extremely difficult.

"When you add to that the problems with drug addiction, with mental illness, it's hard to set a target and achieve it, because you're battling internal demons every moment," she said.

ACTO's report also gives several remedies to help address the north's housing issues.

Of them, it calls for more funding, especially in regards to setting up more non-profit housing in city centres.