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Essex County approves housing and homeless plan

by Adam Gault

Essex County has approved the implementation of the Windsor Essex 10-Year Housing and Homelessness Master Plan, following a presentation from City of Windsor representatives and consultants at the December 18 Regular Essex County Council meeting.

This follows the City of Windsor, which enacted the same plan earlier in December. The plan seeks a 30 percent increase in available housing and to ambitiously end regional homelessness by 2028.

In preparation of the plan, extensive consultation was completed both in Windsor and Essex County, including workshops, online surveys, and group discussions, which included members of the public, who had not and have had an experience of lived homelessness.

“We’ve also seen a significant change in the housing market since the original plan was prepared in 2014,” Cassandra Vink, of Vink Consulting, explained. She was retained by the City of Windsor to assist with the plan’s preparation. “We’ve seen a decrease in the availability of affordable housing, an increase in rents, vacancy rates at now historical lows, an aging housing stock, and an increase in the percent of household and affordable housing needs.”

According to the report Vink presented, around 6,500 people in Windsor-Essex are considered “at high risk of homelessness,” which includes renters in the lowest income quartile, spending at least 50 percent of their income on housing.

With the mandate to ensure Windsor-Essex continues to be an inclusive community, where everyone has a safe, affordable, accessible, quality housing, the plan seeks to collaborate with all levels of government to develop cost-effective solutions that will include programs and supports aimed at helping individuals acquire and retain housing.

At the core of these measures, the program will seek to support the sustainability and expansion of the affordable housing supply, sustain housing that is linked with supports, and support programs to reduce and prevent homelessness.

When it comes to municipal and county-level support, the plan would encourage local levels of government to make policy changes, including re-designating lands to permit greater range of housing types, higher densities, or more compact developments.

This could be achieved through grants or loans selling or leasing surplus County land at reduced cost, integrate the need for affordable housing as a strategic priority within County plans, and more inclusionary zoning.

A specific plan will now need to be put forward, which will most likely contain feedback from the provincial government sometime in 2020.

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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