Ideally located within walking distance to Foodland and the downtown, Millbrook Manor has been a popular destination for seniors seeking affordable rental housing in town when they are no longer interested in maintaining a home and want to remain in the community. But geography is not the only or perhaps even its most appealing attribute. Manor residents embrace a culture of caring through regular social activities and by simply looking out for each other.
It is officially called the Millbrook Non Profit Housing Corporation, and the original structure was built in 1982, with the second phase coming five years later. The two phases were financed by different government agencies – the first federal and the second provincial, and with the downloading of the social housing responsibilities to lower tier government levels, the building is now in the portfolio of the Housing Division of the City of Peterborough.
The Manor consists of 44 units in total, with one and two bedroom units on two floors. The building operates under two separate agreements from Housing Peterborough, one for each phase. It offers permanent rental housing for two types of tenants: those who pay rent tied to the rental market and those whose rental rates are based on their incomes, known as Rent Geared to Income. Wait lists are long for both tenant categories, but they are expressed as a number rather than a length of time, which is less helpful to the person waiting but more accurate for the organization. Turnover rates remain extremely low. Marilyn Lunn is the chair of the volunteer board which oversees the non-profit organization that owns the building. She notes that only one or two units become available on average each year, because residents are leaving not by choice but for health reasons.
At last month’s Annual General Meeting, in addition to the financial and administrative issues under discussion was the persistent issue of the lack of affordable housing in the area. Given the popularity of this particular building, the first inclination would be to build up and add another floor, but unfortunately this is not an option due to the limitations of the building’s foundation which would not support the additional weight.
Social housing developments such as the Millbrook Manor are built by non-profit developers as their subsidized rental rates do not generate viable returns for private sector landlords. There is a severe shortage of affordable housing around the country, that some are now calling a crisis.
Vacancy rates in Peterborough for all rental units have hovered around 1% for the past several years and remained there last year, according to the CMHC report issued last month. Three percent is considered a healthy vacancy rate. Rental demand from an increasing senior population also remains strong, and the senior population aged 70 and older increased by 4.4% during the last two years in the Peterborough area.
Millbrook Manor Board members agree that another building would be welcome in the community, but developing new social housing projects is a big undertaking that requires a champion to move forward.
Peterborough City Housing Division Manager Rebecca Morgan Quin explains that it takes more than enthusiasm to launch a successful housing project, but there is evidence that seed funding for social housing projects may become available as the province opens up its purse strings and the federal government releases its National Housing Strategy. These new initiatives may address the financial hurdle, but to access the funding, project applicants will have to demonstrate a readiness to respond in short order. They must have identified or better yet secured the land for the project and have a shovel-ready plan in hand. Host municipalities can help by offering incentives to affordable housing projects through planning policies and Community Improvement Plans to move potential projects to the top of the list for funding.
There are some affordable housing projects in progress or completed in neighbouring communities. In Keene, a 19 unit building opened in 2013 that was made possible by federal and provincial funding and some financial incentives provided by Peterborough. The County and Otonabee-South Monaghan Township also waived development charges to encourage the project, and there is another project in Selwyn, so it is possible for rural communities to get a project launched. It’s just not easy. KG