Oxford County is facing a critical shortage of affordable housing and housing in general, and experts say something needs to be done before it gets worse.
"Simply put, we are facing a crisis of a shortage of housing; if we don't start making changes, the challenge will continue to grow," said Ashley Farrar, co-ordinator of the Social Planning Council of Oxford. "We need to start solving the problem now, before it becomes unmanageable."
Farrar is currently collecting data from across the county that will be released in a report mid-June entitled How are Oxford County Residents Really Doing? A Wellbeing Report in Oxford County.
According the data collected by Farrar, it is likely those in need or waiting for housing aren't doing very well.
Currently there are 1,429 social housing units in Oxford County, which has a rented-gear-to-income waiting list of 1,200 households.
"Almost everyone (in the social housing units) would have to leave their homes for people on the list to get housing," Farrar said.
While the new affordable housing units in the old Harvey Woods building, slated to open in early 2015, will help alleviate some stress on the system, Farrar said it's not the answer.
"It's just a small piece," she said.
Other data Farrar collected includes a Woodstock vacancy rate of 1.8%, 1.2% lower than acceptable levels.
Average monthly rent in Woodstock is $881, which is considered the third highest in western Ontario.
To make things worse from 2007 to 2011, the average monthly rent in Oxford County increased 12%.
One of 14 households in Oxford County do not meet the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation's standards for adequacy, affordability and suitability and 15% of those who do own homes struggle to pay their mortgage.
Couple that with increased costs for hydro by 27%, food by 9% and transportation by 13%, and it can lead to housing disaster.
According to the Oxford-Elgin Legal Clinic, hydro costs are a very common reason for their clients to be unable to pay their rent and become evicted.
Housing, Farrar said, is not just an issue for low-income individuals.
"Increasingly seniors are needing to leave their communities due to lack of housing," she said. "Norwich, Zorra and Ingersoll are struggling with seniors' housing as well."
Farrar said one of the biggest concerns is that funding for affordable housing comes from outside the municipality.
"It is expected it will be the county's responsibility in the future," she said.
Farrar has also been collecting comments from community Let's Talk events in Woodstock, Ingersoll and Tillsonburg where people with lived experience in finding affordable housing or those who work with them, shared their thoughts and idea.
Affordable housing will be one of five question points asked of Oxford County provincial candidates at an all-candidates meeting sponsored by the Social Planning Council of Oxford Thursday at the Woodstock Art Gallery. Other questions asked will be related to poverty, mental health, transportation and health.
Questions related to social issues from the public are welcome.
The meeting takes place from 7 to 9 p.m.
519-537-2341 ext 258