Teresa Sacco wonders what she would do if she didn’t have her sister.
“Half-decent housing costs $1,500 a month, and no one with a disability can afford it,” Sacco said. “I live in my sister Sharon’s house, which belonged to my parents before they died. She never really left and she helped my parents, so we all agreed she should stay there.
Sacco, who is in her late 50s, is participating in the Ontario Disability Support Program after two car crashes that left her with debilitating injuries. She had settlements from the insurance companies, but once the lawyers took their cut and the bills were paid, there wasn’t much left. She said she receives about $1,400 a month from the provincial government.
“My neck is still in bad shape,” Sacco said. “My doctor told me that if any of the bones slipped or if I broke my neck again, it was over. I will never be able to walk again and I will be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.
“My fingers are numb, and my toes sometimes too. I feel like I’m taking charge of my life in the winter when I’m walking on an icy sidewalk. I don’t want to think about what would happen if I slipped. I don’t I’ll never be the same again.
“Not to work is to kill. I saw that there was a job in a retirement home not far from here. That would be perfect. That’s what I do. I could be in management. There’s no way my doctor thinks that’s a good idea. I still have to deal with two more operations.
In Niagara, affordable housing is scarce and wages are stagnating while gas, groceries and housing prices continue to rise.
A modest one-bedroom apartment in Welland costs $1,400 a month. A one-bedroom basement apartment in Port Colborne costs $1,300. In St. Catharines, where Sacco lives near Pelham Road, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,450, a 12% increase from the previous year.
For owners, it’s a similar situation. The average price in Niagara was $450,000 in March 2020. In March 2021, the price of the same house was over $620,000, an increase of 37.2%, according to the Niagara Workforce Planning Board.
“I live in a big house and I rent a room to my sister, but the electricity goes up, the water goes up, everything goes up, so I give (my sister) $600 a month for the room, plus all the groceries that I can throw away, but it’s not enough, said Sacco.
“I’ve been on $1,400 a month for a long time. I have no more money to give him, and I don’t think that’s fair. Everything goes up.
“I spoke to my social worker and she told me there was nothing they could do.
“I was injured in an accident and I fought my way through it.”
Seven family members, including six adults – three sisters, a brother, a brother-in-law and two children – live together. They’re a close-knit family, but that’s still a lot of people under one roof. Sacco said her sister and brother-in-law were hard working and would love to have their own home, but could not afford a decent one to raise their daughter.
“I have to believe there are people in Niagara who feel the same way,” Sacco said. “We are reaching a crisis point here. Unless you’re rich, I think there are a lot of people who don’t sleep very well these days through no fault of their own.
“Our family has come together, but how many people can do that? We need more low income housing. We need housing for middle-class people because they can’t afford a house at those prices. It’s scandalous.
Sacco’s sister, Mary Dewein, works in a bakery at a local grocery store. She is educated and trained to work in the food industry or pharmaceutical plants, but she can’t find that kind of job here in Niagara.
“I could move to Toronto for a job, but I don’t know if I would be any further ahead,” Dewein said. “It’s even more expensive there.
“We stick together and make the most of it, but the more people you have in the house, the more expensive the water, the more expensive the electricity, the more expensive everything. The bills never stop. They just don’t.
“You find yourself reducing everything. I’m jealous of those people who can just go on vacation and do all that stuff. How do they do this? I do not know. I really do not know.
“Let’s put it this way. It feels like a rubber band, and you keep stretching it and stretching it and stretching it, and if it keeps going, it’s going to break.
“I don’t know what Teresa would do. She can’t be alone. Thank God my sister Sharon is home. We have filled it and we are doing our best because there are four families here, but even working together it is difficult.
Parties running in provincial elections have platforms that address the issues.
Niagara Center NDP MP Jeff Burch said full-time workers in a grocery store or in the service industry made about $1,800 a month. The median income in Niagara is only $35,000 a year. This means that the average worker brings in around $2,300 per month.
“So we’re asking people to spend 60% of their net income on a one-bedroom apartment,” Burch said.
He said the conditions push the working poor into a position where, like people on welfare, they have to choose between putting food on the table and paying rent.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t talk to someone about housing,” Burch said. “It’s all about housing and the rising cost of living. The wages are too low and the ODSP and OW (Ontario Works) rates are too low, but what’s driving this is the incredibly huge crisis we have with affordable housing.
“The Conservative government is not helping. ODSP and OW rates were supposed to go up 3% in 2018, and they cut it, then they only increased it 1.5% and haven’t increased it since.
“Rates were already too low for people like Teresa. Today, the situation is getting worse as inflation rises. It’s getting to the point where people are on the verge of becoming homeless. Even though the minimum wage went up, it was frozen for 10 years under the Liberals, and the Conservatives didn’t do much, so we’re so behind, and it’s not a living wage.
Ryan Madill, firefighter and labor leader, is running for the Liberals in St. Catharines.
He said his party is crafting its policies to focus on affordability for the people of Ontario.
“The cost of living has just increased much faster than the ability to increase your income,” Madill said. “In Teresa’s situation, the ODSP has not increased since 2018 when a Liberal government was in power. It was frozen for the four years under the (Doug) Ford government, and you will soon see an announcement from us regarding ODSP.
“For tenants, we know the cost has increased exponentially over the past few years – and that’s directly related to some of the changes Ford made upon taking office.
“He lifted rent control on new builds and new units so that when tenants change the landlord can set the new rent wherever they want, which has increased rents dramatically.
“The cost of housing is also exploding. We have our full political platform coming out on Monday, and it will be fully costed. Stephen Del Duca and the Liberals believe that increasing housing supply, protecting tenants and building affordable housing are key to creating a housing market that works for everyone.
Madill said the Liberals announced a plan to cut transit fares to $1 per ride and make monthly passes $40 through January 2024. The party also promised to scrap the part provincial HST on all prepared foods costing less than $20 and will add after-school child care to complement the federal government’s promise of $10 a day child care for five-year-olds and less.
Bob Gale, a regional councillor, is the Progressive Conservative Party candidate for Niagara Falls.
“We are working across government to make sure our most vulnerable have the support they need,” Gale said. “I hear time and time again that the cost of living is a major concern for people, and that’s why we are committed to reducing costs. I’ve always said your money is better in your pocket than any government’s.
In an emailed statement with more details, Gale said the Ontario government has increased social assistance rates by 1.5% and invested more than $1 billion in service relief funding. to ensure that the most vulnerable are supported during the pandemic. In total, more than $8.3 billion in social assistance benefits were paid in 2020 and 2021.
The statement said the Conservatives are also looking forward to the federal government fulfilling its campaign commitment to create the Canada Disability Benefit to increase support for people receiving ODSP payments, the statement said.
The Green Party has several planks in its platform to address the issue, including expanding zoning to increase housing supply and implementing vacancy and rental controls on all units.
The party also promises to cut public transit fares by 50% for three months and launch an eco-renovation program while freezing city borders and implementing a code of conduct for grocery stores designed to protect farmers.