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Jul 2018 | The Housing Issue


Healthy communities need housing everyone can afford. The World Health Organization defines the social determinants of health as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities - the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.” Housing is a social determinant of health and worry about affordability and stability can have a toll on one’s health. Vulnerable populations such as seniors on a fixed income, low income families, and people with lived experience with mental health are at risk of housing insecurity and its effects on health.


“The County of Grey’s tag line is ‘Colour it Your Way.’ Likewise, Grey County Housing’s tag line is ‘Colour It Home.’ It is important to recognize it takes more than bricks and mortar to have a successful tenancy.”


Affordable housing influences health in many ways. The Canadian government defines affordable housing as 30 percent or less of total income being spent on rent. High rental rates and low vacancy rates have made this target unreachable for low income earners. When a family or senior is paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent it does not leave enough money for other expenses such as healthy food.

Housing instability causes stress and puts a person at risk of homelessness. High rental rates can lead to an inability to pay and puts a person at risk of eviction. Often a person may have to leave a neighbourhood or building in which they have supports and social inclusion and move to an area where rents are lower. This can lead to social exclusion, when a group of the population does not have the opportunity to participate equally in society. A lack of financial resources can lead to the inability to access services and social isolation. Social exclusion creates a feeling of powerlessness and despair that adds to the inability to participate in society.

Rent geared to income (RGI) is one housing program that provides housing that is affordable and stable. Rent geared to income is exactly as it sounds: rent that is 30 percent of a person’s income. If the person is receiving assistance such as the Ontario Disability Support Program, a scale is used to calculate the rent. Rent for a person receiving disability support is about $139 a month, utilities included.

Grey County Housing (GCH) has 888 units of rent geared to income housing. The Province sets the income levels to determine who is eligible for rent geared to income housing. In Grey County, singles and seniors that have an income of less than $31,000 and family of four earning less than $43,500 a year in income qualify for RGI housing. In reality, the average income of seniors living in Grey County Housing is $19,375. The average income for a single under age 60 is $12,907 and the average income for a family is $21,828.

Currently, GCH is serving people in deep need of financial assistance. Often, our seniors and our most vulnerable residents may experience homelessness, mental health, addictions, and other health issues that require supports. There is a need in social housing for a combination of supports and housing to ensure tenants remain housed.

The County of Grey’s tag line is “Colour it Your Way.” Likewise, Grey County Housing’s tag line is “Colour It Home.” It is important to recognize it takes more than bricks and mortar to have a successful tenancy. Community supports often play a significant role in a person’s life. Grey County has Community Relations Workers that visit tenants in need of supports to maintain their tenancy. The Community Relations Workers assess the needs of the tenant and provide a referral to a community resource. For example, a senior may need assistance with meal preparation or bathing. In this example, a referral to the Local Health Integrated Network would be made. The Community Relations Worker also ensure services are brought into buildings for all residents to participate such as the Good Food Box program, Family Resource Centres, Mental Health Outreach, dental screening, dietician visits, and the CP@Clinic program.

The CP@Clinic is an excellent example of a service that is provided to low income older adults and improves quality of life. CP@Clinic is a drop-in community-based health promotion program within Grey County Housing buildings. The clinic focuses on the prevention of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, providing assessments and health education. The clinic links participants to community resources and reports results to the participant’s family physician.

The program is based out of two Grey County Housing buildings that were identified as high risk by the number of calls for 911 and emergency room visits. Local paramedics visit the buildings and see tenants that have self-identified as having on going health concerns. The purpose of the program is to empower older adults to be proactive with their health in the prevention and management of cardiovascular health. The program also provides educational sessions on falls prevention, healthy lifestyle behaviours, and provides accurate blood pressure readings, diabetes risk score, and cardiovascular risk information to the family physician. The program is effective in decreasing blood pressure, changing lifestyles, and decreasing EMS calls. Altogether, it has the potential for much-needed cost savings in the health care system.

RGI housing in Grey County provides affordable rents and personalized services that make a difference in people’s lives. RGI housing achieves better outcomes for its tenants and there are greater chances for involvement with their neighbour and their neighbourhood. Staff focus on the needs of tenants and the belief that everyone deserves not only a house but a home. Tenants have the option to reside in their own space for a long time, develop relationships, reduce social isolation, and make connections.

Similar to other areas in the Province, there is a waitlist for RGI housing in Grey County and the demand continues to grow; Ontario’s social housing stock has not kept pace with demand. The recent announcement of a National Housing Strategy and the participation of the Provinces brings hope that there is a recognition of the need and importance of affordable housing. A long term financial commitment by all levels of government – current and future – is needed to build more affordable housing so generations of families, singles, and seniors will have the ability to live in affordable and stable housing.


ANNE MARIE SHAW has worked in housing and homelessness services for over 20 years. Anne Marie has worked with the County of Grey since 2008 in the role of Housing Programs Manager and Director of Housing since 2014.