A Community that Cares:
Creating Affordable Housing through
Leadership, Innovation and Collaboration

Report by Gerald Bloomfield

About 100 participants met in the Arden Park Hotel,
Stratford on 9 November 2004 for an intensive hour-hour workshop on affordable housing possibilities.

The workshop was organized by the Community Services Advisory Committee, a Perth County municipal committee also supported by the City of Stratford and the separated Town of St Marys. Dale Howatt, the consultant to the Committee, opened the meeting with an overview of the situation in the area. Factors include the demographics of an ageing population, rising housing costs with very few houses in the price range of $100,000 or lower, and an increasing proportion of the workforce in Stratford commuting from London and Kitchener-Waterloo.

Presenters in the workshop focused on the spectrum of need for seniors housing (Fred Zehr, Tri-County Mennonite Homes); success stories from the initiatives of the Region of Waterloo (Ken Seiling and Rob Horne); the work of Habitat for Humanity in the Stratford area (Jinny McDonald); new development by Menno Homes (Rick Cober Bauman and Martin Buhr) and issues of shelter for homeless teenagers in Stratford (Donna Pammer and Theresa Millen).

While housing for people with disabilities was not directly addressed in the presentations, several speakers referred to issues which are relevant to the housing needs of autistic adults. Group action and self-help were important themes.

Tri-County Mennonite Homes has three major projects. Two are for seniors--Nithview, New Hamburg (250 people) and Greenwood Court, Stratford (170 people). There is also Aldaview Services in New Hamburg which houses 15 disabled people in four-person dwellings and 5 others in SIL (supported independent living) units. The capital funding arrangements have some interest:

1.     Life-lease—prepaid rental programs
2.     Partnerships—service club/individuals purchasing housing facilities which are then rented back to Tri-County
3.     Private investment—Some new construction has been financed by personal loans which bear interest rates a little above the bank’s rates, but are lower in cost than commercial loan rates.
4.     Fund raising—Largely used for furnishings in the amenity/shared space. A current major fundraising drive in underway by Aldaview to build a new four-person house with full sound-proofing.

The Tri-County website (www.tcmhomes.com) has more information about the organization.

The Habitat for Humanity speaker highlighted the self-help approach. Each family aided by the organization has to contribute at least 500 hours of volunteer work, some directly on construction.. Habitat for Humanity seems to be well supported by volunteers on the construction work but is limited by available financing. The cost of serviced lots is a major barrier to development. About seven houses have been built in the past decade.

Menno Homes, incorporated in September 2001, was established by the Mennonite Central Committee as a contribution towards providing affordable homes especially for large families. The organization has built a 16-unit complex in the Queen Street South area of Kitchener during 2004. Each 3-bedroom duplex unit of 1,100 sq ft was constructed at a cost of $106,000. The basic financing of the units was 40 per cent equity (including the cost of land, sold by a church) and a 60 per cent mortgage. The only income for the housing is provided by rents.

Presenters at this well organized meeting gave a very useful view of affordable housing needs and emphasized ways in which innovative organizations have developed housing schemes. The Perth County area has a particularly supportive municipal organization and could be a model for other places. All the organizations showed willingness to share ideas and information with other groups who are searching for housing solutions.