W. BRICE MCVICAR: Housing matter right to be a priority

W. Brice McVicar

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A tiny, three-bedroom unit for $1,400 a month.
Five years ago that unit cost $800 a month.
That’s what Raychel Weese and her family are paying for an apartment in the city. Weese talked about that rent earlier this month when she was attending the City of Belleville’s levee to bring in 2019. The annual event featured a lot of talk from the city’s new mayor and councillors, but it was Weese’s small part in a recent story that should have set off alarms and bells for readers and for residents.
Rent in Belleville isn’t cheap. The cost of living keeps going up and, sadly, area wages aren’t necessarily keeping up with the demands faced by residents — especially families. How two people with minimum wage jobs and kids manage to keep a roof over their heads and their bellies full is a mystery.
Just look at Weese’s comments to get a sense of what it’s like.
“Rental costs have kind of skyrocketed,” she said. “We’re in a tiny three-bedroom right now and it’s costing us $1,400 a month.”
If they want a yard or anything larger, it’s in the $1,600 range, she added.
“My husband’s constantly taking extra hours.
“Before we moved we had two floors, three bedrooms – really good-sized bedrooms – and one-and-a-half bathrooms, and that cost us $1,000 three years ago.”
Their apartment-size clothes washer and dryer didn’t fit in their new place, so they now have to use laundromats, and they’ve endured frozen pipes and “all of Christmas without heat.”
In terms of value for money in the last few years, Weese said, “Everything’s downgraded except the money.”
That’s why it was heartening to hear Mayor Mitch Panciuk and council announce a housing summit will be taking place in the city. The mayor, rightfully, referred to the city’s shortage in affordable housing as a ‘critical’ issue which needs to be addressed. He noted jobs needing to be filled can’t be filled when the people applying for them have nowhere to live. He’s right and, it should be added, no one’s going to work for low paying jobs when all of their income is going to be used on housing. There’s a major difference between living and surviving, and everyone deserves to live in a manner which does not involve worrying about their next meal or whether or not they can afford to turn their heat on.
It appears the summit will include not just members of city council but local agencies and groups which have also been waving the red flag over increased rents in the region. Quinte Home Builders’ Association and All-Together Affordable Housing have all indicated participation in the talks, apparently. That’s vital as the more voices which are added to the discussion the more likely a viable solution can be found.
As a society it only benefits all of us to ensure no one’s struggling to keep their home, struggling to ensure their kids have a bed to rest on and to make sure the people under that roof aren’t draining their bank account on housing with nothing left to fill the fridge and cupboards.
Council, rightfully, has indicated this as a priority issue and, hopefully, it remains so until positive changes are made in the city.

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