No Place to Live in The Neighbourhood

The human stories of a common crisis that calls for all hands on deck

When it comes to housing, Nicole Whitmore is an expert. Recently, she and her husband Darcy were forced to leave the house they’d been renting for 12 years when their landlord listed it for sale at the peak of the spring 2022 real estate boom.

The couple were pre-approved for a $550,000 mortgage, and they offered to buy the house themselves. But what they had was not enough to match the current market value of the property: The landlord wouldn’t take less than $670,000. “It took me back to being homeless and losing everything,” says Nicole, who is the co-author of a book published earlier this year, Understanding Homelessness in Canada: From the Street to the Classroom, and the Outreach Coordinator at Green Wood Coalition in Northumberland County.

“I know exactly how hard it is to not know where you’re going to lay your head at night, worrying ‘Is it safe? Is it clean? Am I going to get sick?’”

Where do you live when there is simply nowhere left to live?

In municipalities across our region, the need for affordable housing has never been greater. Skyrocketing housing prices, rising rents and the disruptions caused by the pandemic have combined to create a crisis that just a few years ago was unheard-of outside an urban setting.

Residents of Trent Hills were shocked this spring to read about a person who was discovered living in a storage unit; it was only because of a fire in the facility that the situation was revealed. In other towns, stories of people living in cars or tents or even on the beach bring a chilling immediacy to the problem. Winter is coming, and for some, there is nowhere to go.

In a recent Toronto Star article, Port Hope’s Green Wood Coalition Director David Sheffield spoke of a rapid gentrification of much of Northumberland, leading to wait times for affordable accommodations that can stretch up to ten years. Another report showed that there were three times as many families looking for rent-geared-to-income (RGI) housing as there were units available for them. The challenge, Sheffield notes, is more difficult now than it has ever been. Its urgency affects everyone who lives here, and tangible solutions are slow to come.

Although housing prices and a shortage of available affordable rental units can be connected to a rise in homelessness, the crisis is not restricted to marginalized citizens.


In a hot real estate market, renters lose. Quinte and District Real Estate Association reported a more than 30 percent year-over-year increase, resulting in a $750,000 median house price. In the first quarter of 2022, Northumberland Hills Association of Realtors reported the average single detached home was selling for over $1 million. It’s plain that as real estate costs go up, more of the middle class in a community are priced out, so there is greater demand for rentals.

Increasing property values have driven private development almost exclusively toward home ownership projects, and away from rental development. Across the Watershed region, the supply of rental units has been in decline for 30 years – indeed, all public housing across the province has been in decline. And despite political promises at every level, quick remedies are not in sight.


Both Paul and Julie grew up in Cobourg, and their families are still there. They are connected to friends, former co-workers – they are interwoven with their hometown. “We grew up together,” Paul says.

Over the past decade, personal circumstances have combined with rising rents, stagnant incomes and difficulties maintaining any sort of credit rating to create a perfect storm of housing challenges for the couple.

Paul and Julie are now living in a tent. And they know many of the other folks who are “sleeping rough” right now. As winter approaches their needs for accommodation become more urgent.

Debbie Wood is a Housing Support Worker at the HELP Centre, a nonprofit organization in Cobourg that helps people obtain access to needed resources for housing. She sees the impact of the rental crisis every day: reno-victions, when tenants are evicted so that repairs and upgrades can be done on a unit, which is often re-listed at a higher rent, or even sold – similar to what happened to Nicole and Darcy. It all results in putting housing out of reach for many who might once have been able to afford it.

In some cases, Wood’s clients could not find a place to live before their eviction date, and she knows of those who have been forced to move into their cars.

“The wall keeps getting higher and nobody is tossing over a rope so that people can climb over it.” NICOLE WHITMORE

Nearly a third of her caseload is made up of seniors living on a fixed income, who are particularly vulnerable to rising inflation and housing costs. She has been helping clients to file applications for social housing outside their own communities, which presents its own problems. “When you uproot our seniors from where they have lived their whole life, you’re taking away their social network.” Such a move could distance them from friends, family or their doctor.

“I’d love to see more housing, but that’s not going to happen overnight, so we have to come up with other solutions in the meantime,” Wood says. “People have worked here and lived here and raised their families here and it feels like we’ve just pushed them aside.”


Nonprofits and social services aside, is anything being done at a government level to address the problem right now?

The news is not all bad. In August the federal and provincial governments announced a combined $8 million investment for the redevelopment of 18 existing units owned and operated by Northumberland County Housing Corporation. When the project is finished, the 18 old units will have become 40 new ones. Dave Piccini, MPP for Northumberland- Peterborough South comments, “Everyone deserves to have a roof over their head and a place to call home.”

But sometimes it feels like one step forward, two steps back.

Mayor Bob Sanderson and the Port Hope town council were stunned in March by the provincial government’s sudden and unexpected cancellation of a land deal with Ontario Power Generation that would have allowed the municipality to purchase 1,300 acres of land in the Wesleyville area. Although no specific announcement had been made for development, many were expecting that part of the land would be used to alleviate the housing crunch, and a detailed plan was expected in 2023. The province has said affordable housing is part of its vision for the area, but details remain to be seen.

Nicole Beatty is a Cobourg town councillor and serves as Planning and Development Coordinator. In that role, she has helped to create a Community Improvement Plan (CIP) focused on increasing affordable and rental housing in the town.

A CIP is a tool that a municipality can use to set collective goals for the community and award municipal support and financial incentives for projects that meet those goals. After community consultation, two types of housing were prioritized in Cobourg: purpose-built rentals and transitional or emergency housing.

It’s up to the citizens, the community, the developers and the social agencies to rise to that call by envisioning projects, submitting applications, and bringing them to fruition.

As Councillor Beatty puts it: “The municipality has put this toolbox in place, and the next step is asking on a community level ‘What can we now build with these tools?’”

Cobourg’s CIP and the types of housing changes seen in recent years – there have been more and more applications for small lot severances in town, for example – speak to a vision of housing that is different from the single detached family homes that dominated the 20th century. For example, the CIP incentivizes rental homes in carriage houses and other outbuildings.

“What I would love to see in our small municipality is what we’re seeing in larger urban centres: meeting many needs while complementing the look and feel of the neighbourhood in which they’re being built,” Councillor Beatty says. “That might be gentle infill projects and these smaller, more innovative and affordable housing types.”

Municipalities across the province are running behind on providing affordable rental housing. Government policies and new construction move slowly, and they were further slowed by the pandemic, while the changes in our local real estate and rental markets have been rapid.


Belleville’s Mayor Mitch Panciuk says people thought he was exaggerating the housing crisis when he ran for office in 2018, but the past four years have proven his concerns in ways even the mayor himself couldn’t have predicted.

Mayor Panciuk is also the owner of the local Boston Pizza restaurant, and he’s got the high energy, hands-on style of a small-business owner.

“I have experience with running into challenges and still having to find a way forward. I have experience with not taking ‘no’ for an answer,” he explains. “I’m interested in ‘what can we do?’”

In the first six months of his term, the mayor and city hall held a two-day housing summit, hosting builders, social service agencies and the local landlord association. The summit’s takeaway was that the lack of purpose-built rental accommodations was in need of serious remedy.

It’s important to realize that municipalities are not in the home-building or real estate business.

“Municipalities don’t build or own housing; we can just create an environment where that happens,” Mayor Panciuk says, confirming Councillor Beatty’s statements. He points out that financial incentives for multi-unit development, permitting carriage homes, secondary units and infill development are all examples of housing solutions that the city can encourage. “You can’t fix the housing crisis by building one home at a time.”

One of the housing summit’s co-hosts was the non-profit All Together Housing, which has a mandate to provide housing to the most vulnerable, low income community members. All Together’s president Bob Cottrell, a retired French immersion teacher who grew up in Port Hope and now lives near Belleville, says that All Together was founded fifteen years ago in response to what already was already a housing crisis.

The housing shortage affects both staff and those hoping to hire them in the busy hospitality industry. It is a scenario that was never expected two decades ago.

Recently, All Together formed a joint venture with private developer Phil Spry’s Springale Development to create a new, 32-unit mixed-rent building called Great St. James. It’s a modern, grey-brick, three-storey building tucked in at the end of a quiet street in the heart of Belleville that has just begun to welcome tenants. The main floor features a community hub where residents can have a coffee or take cooking classes. The apartments are modern, spacious and accessible, with wide doorways and large bathrooms. Half of the 32 units are designated affordable. Most of these are offered through the Quinte Community & Housing First Partnership with agencies working with specific vulnerable populations, who can provide onsite support to tenants.

Great St. James was underway before the City’s Community Improvement financial incentives became available, but Bob Cottrell credits Mayor Panciuk and the City of Belleville with helping to steer the project through the municipal red-tape. “This council and mayor have really embraced their role. The city needs to get behind these affordable development projects,” Cottrell says. “They’re really a critical partner.”


A summer weekend. A line of cars snakes slowly along the Loyalist Parkway, carrying visitors to the relaxed atmosphere and soft topography of Prince Edward County. There is a feeling of post-pandemic freedom. Wineries, beaches and bistros beckon. The main street of Picton will be crowded, not only with tourists but also with would-be homebuyers combing the real estate listings. Signs along the road indicate how many campsites are available at Sandbanks Provincial Park. In summertime, there are few. However, it is not only the campgrounds that are full to capacity.

The County’s dilemma differs from that of its neighbours in Hastings or Northumberland: It is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. The Toronto Star has described the impact that the booming tourism economy has had on local access to housing in Prince Edward County. Many homes are being converted to short-term rentals and airbnbs that cater to visitors. Multi-generational residents are leaving the County for the first time, unable to afford to live in the place where they grew up. As well, the housing shortage affects both staff and those hoping to hire them in the busy hospitality industry. It is a scenario that was never expected two decades ago when the County first envisioned itself as a tourist destination.

Sophie Walcott and her husband Scott own a home and campground on West Lake in Prince Edward County, and in 2015 they bought the Picton Harbour Inn and Lighthouse Restaurant. They have trouble keeping staff because of the cost of housing. “A number of our staff rent, and even for those who own, it’s still a challenge. As the homes around here have been sold, whether they turn into a short-term rental or not, the new cost to rent is just out of most people’s reach.” There have even been instances of bidding wars over rents.

A 2019 Prince Edward County Attainable Housing Report indicated that 27 percent of businesses surveyed were unable to hire employees due to a lack of affordable housing options in the region. And the situation has only gotten worse. Shortages in the service sector will directly impact the tourism business, which is just coming back from the impact of the pandemic.

Short-term rentals like airbnbs have had a radical effect on the County. A property owner can often rent out accommodation for a weekend or a week for what they could get for a whole month on a rental lease. It is low-hanging fruit that is too tempting. Over the past year, average daily rentals have hovered around twice what they were five years ago.

“It changes the nature of the neighbourhood, and it changes the nature of hospitality,” Sophie Walcott says, describing the tourism boom that has exploded beyond the community’s capacity, disrupting the housing market and displacing residents who are here for the longer term.

The Prince Edward County Affordable Housing Corporation was formed in 2018 with a goal to find innovative housing solutions for County residents and workers. They have their work cut out for them: the waitlist for affordable housing in the broader area has tripled in the last five years.

Meanwhile, to tackle the problem head on, the Picton Harbour Inn is partnering with the Salvation Army to offer emergency shelter in the off-season, and the Walcotts are committed to paying their staff a living wage. They even looked into buying a building to offer affordable rentals to staff but realized that might put current tenants into the same boat. They do not want to be the ones who displace existing residents.


Nicole and her husband were able to find a home within their budget – in Brighton. Although they had to move 40 kilometres, they decided they could make it work, and they embarked on the newest chapter of their housing journey: home ownership. Their mortgage payments are lower than the rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Cobourg. Nicole knows firsthand that they’re among the most fortunate with their two full-time jobs and savings, yet still they’ve experienced housing precarity. For the people she connects with as an outreach worker, there are far fewer options.

“Connecting people with housing was hard a couple of years ago, the availability has always been low,” Nicole says. “It’s getting harder and harder. The wall keeps getting higher and nobody is tossing over a rope so that people can climb over it.”

In communities across the region, and across the province, the consequences of a shortage of adequate, affordable housing are becoming more visible and more widespread. The situation has been decades in the making, but the most vulnerable don’t have decades to wait for the solutions. Housing may be a human right, but putting more housing in place requires leadership, policy change, community engagement, neighbours helping neighbours – now.

Story by:
Meghan Sheffield

Illustration by:
Charles Bongers

[Fall 2022 features]