Tag Archives: Living Wage

If Only Our Earnings Matched Our High Rental Market…

“Hot enough for ya?” That’s the greeting of the day (week…month) as I write this in mid-July. It’s as common a salutation as “how ya doing?” or “how’s it going?” during southern Ontario heatwaves. As the weather roasts us, I count myself lucky. My home is at least partially air conditioned. And I can afford the hydro bill that will come at the end of the month. Not so for many other people who live in this region and this province. I think about that as, sweat rolling off the end of my nose, I take my daily walk through my mixed-income residential neighbourhood. I think about how, 20-some years ago I accepted a job, moved to St. Catharines, and attempted to find an apartment I could afford on my income. It was a hard search. Back then, the vacancy rate was hovering around one percent. It was slim pickings for any apartment, let alone an affordable one. I found decent digs in an older converted building. It was oddly early to mid-century in set up and accoutrements. The refrigerator was vintage, much like the rounded corner International Harvester one that was a fixture of my parents’ kitchen when I was a child. There was no shower (just a tub). The bathroom was clearly an afterthought. But it was clean, with no bugs. It was also safe, warm enough in the winter, and not quite roasting in the summer. The landlord was decent as well and didn’t treat his tenants like necessary coal mining cogs in his Freedom 55 retirement plan. It was the first of five St. Catharines apartments (some better than others) I lived in before my partner and I were lucky enough to buy a house.

When we left our last, beloved apartment (converted servant’s quarters), rent had inched its way into “it’s better to own” territory and some dignified houses could be found well below the $100,000 mark. This was less than 15 years ago. Now, houses on my street are becoming out of reach for first-time buyers. I know, I know…I should think of that as a good thing. I mean, my “investment” is growing, right? Or so the rhetoric goes. But I can’t think of a home, a place to live, as just a financial investment.

Housing as a Right

I’m a naturally happy person, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t look at things with a critical eye. Housing is one of those things we should all look at critically. I happen to think housing is a right. Decent, affordable housing should be much like water—it shouldn’t be owned by only a few, and it shouldn’t be controlled by the free market alone. That’s why I’m skeptical about all the hype surrounding the 416’s (and outlying 905) interest in Niagara real estate. It’s great for property values and real estate agents, property management companies, and people who want to sell their houses and get out of Dodge or shift to the nursing home. But what about everyone else? Who else benefits? Having invested my life in Niagara for a quarter century, I don’t want to see it turned into a bedroom community for commuters with good jobs in the Big Smoke and retirees from Oakville eager to sell their family homes and spend their golden years on much more affordable golf links. Because that will mean we have given up on having a truly thriving community and we’ve given over to strict market interest. We already rely on the lower paid service industry for too many of our jobs. In the post-manufacturing economy, too many people here juggle two and three part-time jobs just to put a roof over their heads. You need a master’s degree to get a toe-hold on a $15 an hour, no benefits temporary contract position. I joke, but I don’t joke.house, key

How About an Employment Boom?

I would prefer if the real estate boom was an employment and living wage jobs boom, so that the people already living here in substandard housing—you know, those languishing on subsidized housing wait lists, could have a chance at good jobs that allowed them to afford good market rental housing, or even perhaps owning their own homes someday. The problem with a high rent to income ratio community (which is much of St. Catharines/Niagara and has been for many years) experiencing a housing boom is that the people on the margins— to be blunt, the folks living in overpriced holes—never benefit. That’s right…never benefit. Yes, there is shelter and transitional housing (clearly, the YWCA is a leader here), and the Region and the city of St. Catharines are putting our money and their mouths into supporting social housing and affordable housing. It’s about time. I can’t swing a cat without hitting a new “student housing” venture. Fantastic! Make some money on Brock’s strategic foreign student education futures plan! And the market is blossoming with downtown area condos. Good. We need more mixed housing to enliven the heart. But still, a pleasant one-bedroom apartment in a building that does not need major repairs for $750-800 is considered a deal in St. Catharines. A deal. Really? Do you know how long it takes a minimum-wage earner to make $750?

Yay! We’re on a Top Ten List?

Just last week, Niagara This Week carried a story on St. Catharines claiming 10th spot on the most expensive rental markets in Canada list (compiled by PadMapper, a national apartment search platform). We finally made a top ten list and it’s for high rents! Not for stable, well-paying jobs. Not for pretty trees and gardens (although that’s one of our official selling points). Not for outstanding achievement in the field of excellence (to quote The Simpsons). But for the 10th most expensive rental market. Apparently, the median rent for a one bedroom in St. Catharines is $910, and $1,130 for a two bedroom. I imagine that doesn’t come as a shock to renters. I also imagine some landlords (I said some, not all) might look at that and think “hmm…looks like I’ve got room to move up.”


So, What’s Changed?

The thing is, a high rental market in St. Catharines really isn’t news. It’s more like a confirmation of a fact (anecdotal at the time) that I learned many, many years ago. This place, this beautiful place with lovely people and stunning geography, is hard to earn a living in, but expensive to live in. And, I hate to sound like a Debbie Downer here, but the much lusted after Go Service to Niagara is not likely to change that situation. It may ease the congestion on the QEW, make things all nicey nicey for Burlington and Brampton peeps who want to buy pretty homes in lovely ‘ole still-small-town-like Grimsby. (I’m practically wiping the snot on my sleeve as I write that.) It may even raise my property value in St. Catharines. But it is not likely to up my income. And therein lies part of the rub. One of these things is not like the others. Riddle me this: why oh why is St. Catharines squashing high rental market shoulders with Toronto, Victoria, Calgary, and Ottawa? And how can we fix this?


Living Wage

Written by Carli Taylor

I often dream about how relieving it would be to receive my telephone or hydro bill and be able to immediately log into my bank account and make that payment— instead of having to wait for my next paycheck.

And this is coming from someone who works full time and has a husband who works full time.

My husband earns a decent salary and carries the lions’ share of our expenses. While I may earn above minimum wage, it certainly doesn’t stretch very far—but as I’m often told, such is the life for those working in the social services sector. That’s my cross to bear (and unfortunately my husband’s too).

I consider us pretty lucky though. We own a beautiful home. Drive nice vehicles. We eat pretty well and can afford our insurance and monthly bills. We can afford some evenings out for some stress/work relief. However, at the end of the month, there is little to nothing left over for saving for the future. This is a constant worry for us—and we are among the lucky ones.
Throughout the Niagara Region homelessness and poverty continue to reach epidemic levels. Too many families are struggling just to get by. They work hard, but with ever increasing basic living expenses—groceries (not just food, nutritious food!), utilities, clothing, transportation, health care, childcare and hopefully education never mind the uncertainties we all face such as illness, caring for elderly parents and saving for retirement and the likelihood that you have debt to repay—How are we supposed to keep up?

In fact— over 1.6 million Canadian households (1 in 8 families) struggle to put enough food on the table every day and over 12% of Canadian households are in core housing need. There are over 5700 families in the Niagara Region alone that are currently on the Niagara Regional Housing affordable housing waiting list.

Everyone who works in this country earns at least a minimum wage- a legislated minimum amount that employers must pay. This wage does not reflect rising costs of basic needs or basic quality of life. And this is why those who earn only the minimum wage are considered the working poor.

This is why the call for a Living Wage has begun to be heard around the world, and now specifically in Ontario and other areas of Canada.

A living wage is defined as the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their needs that are considered to be basic. It’s the possibility of an hourly wage that affords a person to pay their expenses and help lift themselves out of poverty. It’s a wage that would reflect the cost of living in a specific region and would differ from city to city.

The idea of a living wage is not to suddenly afford a person to run out and purchase a home or pay off credit or student debt— it’s only meant to ensure basic living expenses can be met. And while there are many factors and agreements to be made regarding what would actually define basic needs, I truly believe this is a necessity in our community. During our last No Fixed Address event the YWCA was actively asking members of the community to sign the petition to call upon all candidates and parties running for municipal and regional councils in 2014 to commit, that if elected, to initiate a study to cost and consider the implications of a living wage policy in our community. The Niagara Poverty Reduction Network recently reported that the living wage for Niagara is currently being calculated.

There are many arguments for and against this idea, all of them to be considered before
something of this kind of impact can be put into place. But I think it’s only fair to the thousands of working poor in our community to give them a chance— a chance at eventually rising out of poverty and in turn giving them an opportunity to change the cycle of poverty. As I for one know, I would still be considered the working poor had I not married the man I did—even though I earn above minimum wage.

For more information on what the Niagara Region is doing about poverty please visit http://www.wipeoutpoverty.ca/ and for more information on the living wage policy please go to http://livingwagecanada.ca/