The Community Foundation of Ottawa has a mission to work with the community to bring positive and sustainable change to Ottawa through the promotion of the welfare of local residents and generous donations. Their vision is for the capital to fulfill its “potential as an environmentally balanced, socially just, culturally vibrant and economically resilient city”.
I recently had the chance to speak with their Director of Community Engagement, Rebecca Aird. For the past two years, Aird has been involved in one of their initiatives, Ottawa Insights. Ottawa Insights hopes to be a resource for citizens to help us understand important local issues and allow us to make informed decisions to improve the quality of life in our city. “The goal was to have a foundation for evidence based data and hard numbers and be a pulse for our city,” said Aird. This data can then provide a snapshot of the current state of affairs in Ottawa. To facilitate this goal, they have created a user-friendly and visually pleasing website detailing their 8 themes:
- General Demographics
- Basic Needs and Standard of Living
- Economy and Employment
- Health and Wellness
- Environment and Sustainability
- Education and Learning
- Arts and Culture
- Community and Belonging
Aird explained that “Community and Belonging is a new theme we hope to add to the site in the first quarter of 2017 and will include a host of topics like crime stats, volunteer activities, and voting information. She also said that they hope to “expand the website by having invited experts on a given subject blog on what they consider hot-button issues”. They hope to have these accounts on their main page sometime soon.
After only a short time perusing their website, I found an abundance of interesting and helpful information. All the data is geared towards Ottawa and provides an easy-to-understand set of facts to help me have an informed opinion of our community. My main interest in visiting the website was to gain insight on the basic needs and the standards of living in Ottawa, specifically on affordable housing.
After reading their sub-theme on housing, I found out that from 2004 to 2014, reliance on shelters has grown in Ottawa. Over that time, the number of families staying in shelters has increased and the average stay has also increased. Many of these families are on the rent-geared-to-income (RGI) waitlist, awaiting affordable housing. Their average wait time is now 4.8 years. This is the longest since 2004.
It’s important to note that this list doesn’t include Ottawa households living in unaffordable or inadequate housing. These families are living in housing that is cramped, too small, or in dire need of major repairs. Some of the hardest hit people in Ottawa are single parent families (27.7%), Inuit (25.6%), and recent immigrants (30.7%).
It is no surprise that the hardest hit families are in lower income brackets and that they tend to spend over 30% of their income on shelter. These families feel a higher strain on other necessities, such as food and transportation. This is important to note as research has shows that the closer these families come to spending 50% of their incomes on shelter, the higher their risk of being homeless.
Home ownership in our nation’s capital has increased despite rising housing prices. One reason is due to the record low interest rates available. These interest rates began to decline in large part due to the effects of the US subprime mortgage crisis and recession, which started in the beginning of December of 2007. All that means is families can afford to take on more debt due to the interest rates being low. This good fortune can cut both ways though, as many may not be able to carry forward their loans and debts should there be a slight increase of the lending rates.
Another knock against the rise of home ownership in Ottawa is that the median mortgage has gone up from $111,400 in 1999 to $165,000 in 2012. That’s an increase of roughly 48%. There wasn’t a similar comparison of family income on the Ottawa Insights website.
However, a report [PDF link] from Statistics Canada comparing average family income for Canadians showed an increased of 18.2% from 1999 to 2012. By reasonable extrapolation, one could safely say that the median mortgage has increased by more than 2.5 times that of the average family income. This is a worrying trend going forward as the increase in wages for the average family is being far outpaced by the cost of basic needs such as shelter.
As we move forward into the future as a city, we should keep in mind the shortage of affordable housing in our area and be more proactive in our planning approach to ensure fewer residents are relying on shelters, are staying less time there, and are granted this vital and basic necessity of life.