Statistics presented by the United Way to Muskoka District Council display concerning trends of affordability within Muskoka.
Brian Shelley the Chief Executive and Philanthropy Officer of the United Way Simcoe Muskoka spoke before Muskoka District Council on Monday to give an update on poverty and housing issues in the region. Shelley acknowledged that the statistics that he was using in his presentation were from 2020 and were out of date but stated that the Coronavirus pandemic has only increased affordability and housing issues in Muskoka.
Shelley presented a variety of different statistics or perspectives on the concerning trends of affordability in Muskoka. According to Living Wage Ontario, the Living wage in Muskoka is 19.65 an hour. Anyone making below this wage is in danger of falling below the poverty line and being unable to meet their needs. According to Shelley a living wage entails what salary amount is needed in order for an individual to feed, clothe, house, provide transportation, provide internet access, pay a phone bill and a small amount left over for recreational activities. A minimum wage provides no room for savings. Shelley pointed to the fact that the minimum wage was expected to be increased in Ontario but that the change would still fall $3 dollars short of an appropriate living wage.
A concerning element addressed by Shelley is that four of the five largest occupations in Muskoka make less than the living wage. This includes retail sales, those working at food counters, cleaners and cashiers. These wage concerns are happening at the same time and are related to increases in housing costs.
“Housing costs or shelter costs directly impact what a living wage is in this community,” Shelley said.
According to statistics given by Shelley in 2020 a mortgage in Muskoka costs $1,110 a month compared to just over $1000 a month for a rental unit. Shelley stated that while he does not have exact statistics he knows that both of these numbers have increased. Over 50% of renters spend more than 30% of their income on housing which means that they are at risk of becoming unhoused. One in five homeowners are living beyond what they can truly afford in paying for their household. Shelley estimated that 150 individuals were presently unhoused within Muskoka.
According to Shelley poverty and food insecurity within Muskoka are also areas which need attention. At least 13% of the population in Muskoka is living in poverty. While one in eight people and one in six children in Muskoka are experiencing food insecurity. This means that these individuals are unsure of where their next meal will come from. Shelley reiterated that all of these statistics are from before the pandemic and have likely gotten worse.
“The sad part is that most of this data is pre-pandemic, most of this data is pre-inflation. We can assume that these numbers are getting worse, not getting better,” Shelley said.
After detailing concerning affordability statistics through Muskoka Shelley went on to discuss programs and initiatives which the United Way is involved with to help with affordability.
One such program is a peer mentorship initiative called Circles Muskoka in partnership with the YWCA which assisted individuals in transition out of poverty. The United Way has contributed $300,000 dollars to the program over the last three years. Another program in partnership with the District is an urgent needs fund program which provides nonrepayable loans to those in poverty who encounter a large, unexpected expense. Another is the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program in partnership with local utility companies to provide grants to low-income residents who have fallen behind on utility bills.
Shelley singled out the energy assistance program to highlight how rising energy costs have become another key affordability issue which does not receive appropriate attention.
“We often think of poverty as housing and food security, I would suggest as a third point to that triangle and that’s around energy poverty. So often families are having to choose again which meal they’re going to skip for their children or for themselves,” Shelley said.
The final program discussed was the administration by the United Way of the Federal Government Reaching Home program which aims to address housing issues and homelessness in remote and rural areas. As highlighted by Shelley in his presentation, poor transportation and large distances in rural areas like Muskoka mean that many people cannot afford to travel to or cannot reach certain services they need.
The United Way will be spending $740,000 dollars this year in efforts across Muskoka to assist in affordability issues. This includes just under $100,000 dollars in grants, $390,000 dollars in addressing housing and homelessness issues and $169,000 dollars to charities and nonprofits located in Muskoka.
Kelley highlighted that changes to the United Way model ensure that donations that are made in the community will remain in the community. He added that it is vital that municipalities support affordability programs like the ones administered by the United Way.
“It’s incredibly important to have municipalities supporting this. These are funds that stay right in their community to support those in that community that need it the most,” Shelley said.
Throughout his presentation and in his questions from District councillors Shelley stated that affordability is one of the major issues facing Muskoka and that the problem is only getting worse.
“Unfortunately, things are not getting better. But together we can work together, and we can make a better tomorrow for our most vulnerable population,” Shelley said.
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