Letter from CEO: Energy poverty an increasing reality in Ontario
Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga has always advocated for affordable homeownership that gives our families freedom from poverty and precarious living situations. Each year, thousands of Habitat volunteers help families on to the pathway to homeownership. These families are grateful that their community is able to give them a hand-up and help to make their lives better.
Finding safe and decent housing for a reasonable price in Ontario is difficult for low-income families. We often forget that there unseen costs when purchasing or renting a home that can further burden a household. Paying for food, insurance and mortgages can place homeowners in a difficult position where they often forgo paying energy bills to save money. This is called energy poverty.
Energy poverty is becoming an increasing reality for Ontarians who are spending more than 10 per cent on their household utilities. Low-income families can often fall behind in hydro payments, which leads to their power being shut off. In 2015, 60,000 Ontario homes had their power shut off for failing to pay their electrical bills. For many families, energy shut off can mean no electric heating or refrigeration until they are able to make missed payments. This can devastate households in the winter when heating is the most vital to families.
The cost of electricity has increased by over 100 per cent in the last ten years. Ontario has the fastest growing hydro rate in Canada and the US. These prices are not evenly distributed, typically hurting rural communities more than areas with higher population density. Households in close proximity will mean that maintenance costs are dispersed, making their energy more affordable. Often, people in rural communities do not have the luxuries of having many neighbours to divide costs and are hit with higher prices as a result.
Ontario needs to develop a long-term solution to help those who suffer from energy poverty. The province has some programs to offset energy poverty, but they often are short-term solutions that do not cover the costs that come from simply living in a low-density area. There are ways the province can help supplement the problem, including retrofitting older homes, creating programs such as universal basic income or delaying shutdowns that help the people most vulnerable to energy poverty.
Retrofitting old homes with the tools to save energy may seem like a small solution, but it can make a huge difference towards making a home energy efficient and cutting energy costs. Draft proofing and adding insulation are just some of the ways that families can save energy in their homes. Older homes are often the most affected by this issue and require significant retrofits to become more energy efficient. People with low-income are the most likely to be affected by poor housing conditions as they cannot afford to make the necessary retrofits to save energy. This issue could easily be resolved by the province granting subsidies or creating educational programs targeted at those with limited knowledge of their home’s heating. These programs can help families understand the best practices to save money on their hydro bills, such as avoiding power usage during peak hours.
One of the best ways to address energy poverty is to address all forms of poverty. Low-income families who have their power shut off are often already suffering from other forms of economic distress, and their savings need to be stretched to live. Creating policies and programs that help low-income families can significantly improve how a family will manage their finances. Whether through lowering taxes for those who struggle day to day, developing a basic income for people below the poverty line or mandate winter power shutdowns be delayed until warmer weather.
Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga is proud to create efficient homes that will help families save energy and reduce their household expenditures. We do this by ensuring they do not spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing, and can avoid the problems associated with energy poverty. However, we cannot tackle the issue of energy poverty on our own, and look forward to seeing innovative solutions put forward by our provincial government to address this pressing problem for families in Ontario.
Habitat for Humanity Halton Mississauga is able to help families achieve home ownership for the first time thanks to the support of our supporters in our community. Follow this link to find out how you can make our community a better place to live for everyone.