Need is dire for singles’ housing

Duane Hicks

There’s not enough affordable housing for singles in parts of Rainy River District.
“We know there’s a real need for singles’ housing in the communities,” Dan McCormick, CAO of the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board (DSSAB), told the Times on Monday.
McCormick spoke on the issue during the Rainy River District Municipal Association annual general meeting held here Saturday.
“To give you an example, looking at our rolls from ‘OW’ [Ontario Works] and from OSDP [Ontario Disability Support Program], we recognize there’s about 500 people that need singles’ housing,” he noted.
And with the influx of the mine workers, said McCormick, rents have been going up. This means many people on social services can’t afford to stay where they are and have to move–and can’t find new housing at an affordable cost.
He explained the lack of singles’ housing has been most prevalent in Fort Frances and Atikokan.
“We have never really had units for singles in Atikokan,” McCormick noted. “We are even over-housing some people in Atikokan–so we have singles living in three- and four-bedroom homes there, and they’re not blocking people that need those homes because we have nowhere to put them.”
Here in Fort Frances, DSSAB is having R.J. Concrete & Construction build an eight-plex on Fifth Street East (behind the water treatment facility).
The board is doing this affordable housing project as a trial. The project is costing $1.4 million, of which the province currently is funding $1 million, McCormick said.
“The board went ahead with this building in Fort to see what the need is, and we’re pretty sure the need is pretty great,” added McCormick, noting some DSSAB clients with no other place to live are having to stay at a local motel and, frankly, are being “gouged.”
The eight bachelor apartments will be open to anyone of any age, and is not “rent-geared-to-income” (RGI) but is considered “affordable housing.”
This means that rent will be fixed at around $450 a month, which is 80 percent of market rent.
“When you look at somebody on ‘OW,’ they’re getting around $396 a month for rent,” McCormick said. “So we’re hoping that they can stretch it up to the $450 if they’re looking for a singles’ apartment.
“In Fort, we truly only have 10 [singles’] units that are open and they’re RGI and they’re in Lady Frances Place, which is right in front where this one is being built,” he added, noting the rest of DSSAB’s housing portfolio in Fort Frances consists of seniors’ housing.
The eight-plex, which will include two wheelchair accessible units, is expected to be completed by late April, with the DSSAB hoping to have it rented by June.
“We’re hoping to prove there’s a real need,” McCormick remarked. “Obviously, if there’s 500 people in the district that needs singles’ housing, we expect it to fill up very quickly.”
DSSAB also is renovating some housing units in Atikokan which have been out of service for many years.
“There’s a real need in Atikokan right now,” stressed McCormick, noting the units being renovated hadn’t been used because there hadn’t been a demand for them up until now.
He noted that in addition to these renovations, DSSAB is taking one of the duplexes in Atikokan and making it into a four-plex to see how effectively their existing housing can be turned into more units for singles.
Beyond these initiatives, DSSAB will have to wait-and-see what the future holds in terms of housing funding.
“There’s nothing planned right now but we are waiting to hear,” said McCormick.
“We are meeting with the ministry over what’s happening with the federal government,” he added.
“We know there’s money committed from the federal government, but it’s up to the provincial government and what initiatives they’re going to take.
“Our understanding is they have to fund dollar for dollar [what the federal government commits] . . . so they’re coming to talk to all of the service deliverers to ask us, ‘Where do you need the funding? What do you need the funding for?'” McCormick explained.
He is confident dollars will be announced before the next provincial election this June.
Homelessness count
Meanwhile, in conjunction with its community partners, DSSAB will be conducting a homelessness survey from April 5-19.
DSSAB has been working with 36 agencies–including policing, justice, public health, social services, education, and indigenous organizations–to plan for the “period prevalence count,” which is meant to enumerate absolute and at-risk individuals experiencing chronic and episodic homelessness.
The survey will take place in Fort Frances, Atikokan, Emo, and Rainy River, where human service agencies will survey clientele.
This information will be used for future planning, with results will be made public by March 31, 2019.
Other topics discussed at the RRDMA meeting included forest management planning, the health unit’s needle exchange program, municipal-indigenous reconciliation, the impacts of Bill 148, municipal fire and emergency compliance requirements, and the 2018 municipal election.
There also were updates from local MPP Sarah Campbell, local MP Don Rusnak, and Municipal Affairs minister Bill Mauro.
In related news, Fort Frances Coun. Ken Perry was elected RRDMA president on Saturday, with Alberton Coun. Peter Spuzak selected as vice-president.
Coun. Perry also will continue to represent the RRDMA an as executive vice-president to the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association.
Fellow Fort Frances Coun. Wendy Brunetta and Rainy River Coun. Gord Armstrong also will be regional reps to NOMA.