Interview: Marg Scheben-Edey, Affordable Housing Task Force, Collingwood

Housing Advocate Marg Scheben-Edey joins Home Suite Home host Kelly Caldwell to discuss volunteerism, Collingwood‘s Affordable Housing Task Force’s creation, its recommendations, and her hopes for the future of housing.

“I truly believe that volunteerism is the rent we pay for the place we occupy on earth.”
– Marg Scheben-Edey

Video Transcript

Kelly: Marg, thanks so much for meeting with us today. It’s such a pleasure to have you here. 

Marg: Thanks for having me. 

Kelly: Yeah. I know you’re very well-known in the community as a housing advocate and a social justice advocate. So we really appreciate any insights that you’re going to bring to us today. I want to start off, if it’s okay with you, I’d like to read you an article that was published on in January 2020.

It says in the year 2000, the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Collingwood was $578 per month. Today, that figure is upwards of $1,500 per month. Out of the cold, Collingwood is in an emergency homeless shelter created to give the homeless population a warm place to sleep during the winter. During the summer, some of those people live in tent cities.

Marg Scheben-Edey said the community has reached a tipping point because of a crisis of affordability. However, this was predicted. What is that prediction referring to? 

Marg: That is referring to a project that I chaired in 1999 called Vision 2020. We were looking at a long-term vision for the town of Collingwood. From my research, we knew that there was a tsunami coming that was going to create a crisis in affordability for a number of reasons, but it was predictable. 

Kelly: So this was this was a group that you chaired, and you guys did a whole bunch of research that collectively brought together data that said there is going to be a problem. 

Marg: Correct. 

Kelly: And you brought forward solutions possible solutions at that time. 

Marg: We did that report, which encompassed a number of things, but we brought forward over 200 recommendations. This was a project of the town of Collingwood. 

Kelly: Wow. 

Marg: So we brought many recommendations forward to council. In regard to housing, I don’t know how many were specifically around housing, but, none of them were acted upon at the time. 

Kelly: And why, like why was that just left? Did people not see this approaching crisis? Were people just in denial that this was happening or maybe there wasn’t available funding? Do we do we know why? 

Marg: I think it was largely political. I also would say that people didn’t have an awareness. Kelly, they didn’t have an awareness five years ago, I went to council again and was told I was being, dramatic. So, yeah, you know.

Kelly: Yeah. 

Marg: Times have changed, haven’t they? 

Kelly: Yeah. And I mean, we’re lucky we’ve got some new really key players in council now that are really pro-development for these, accessory units so that’s been a huge change. 

Marg: Big change. 

Kelly: Yeah. But before those new players came in to where they are now on council.Tell me about the Affordable Housing Task Force, how that came to be and your part in it. 

Marg: So in 2019, the federal government, parliament, brought in the National Housing Act and quickly, there were a series of announcements that came forward of funding that was available to communities around affordable housing issues. And I realized that our community was not poised to take advantage of that. And so I started working behind the scenes, speaking to our council members of the day, saying, you know, we really, really need to get on this because we are going to miss the boat, of being able to access the funding.

And so in 2020, late 2020, one of the councillors brought forward a motion to establish a very temporary housing task force to look at the issue, and in 2021, three years ago, almost to the day we had our first meeting as a task force. 

Kelly: Right. And so you were an integral part of bringing this idea forward to get this task force formed.

Marg: Well, I was the one pushing a little bit. 

Kelly: Yeah, you were the one making it. I remember the phone call and you were like, Kelly, I’m getting this task force together. You’re going to do a resume and you’re going to push your resume in, and this is what you’re. Yes, Marg. Yes, Marg. I will get that done

Marg: True, I remember.

Kelly: Yes, yes, it was about 5:30 in the morning! You have been described as a social justice warrior by your colleagues. You are so well-respected in the community as somebody who continues to push the needle forward on affordable housing, and you’re always there championing the idea of why this is important and how we can get it done. And you’re just so passionate about it. Tell me where that passion comes from. Tell me, what is your why? 

Marg: I was raised with the belief—my parents were always volunteers and involved in the community—but I was raised to believe that volunteerism is the price we pay for the space we occupy on Earth. And I internalized that, and I believe very much that we have an obligation to give back in our communities and for me, housing, I could see as being the single greatest need, the single greatest need in our community. And I saw that 35 years ago that it was increasingly a big issue. And I am passionate about it. Absolutely, absolutely. 

Kelly: That’s amazing, volunteerism is the rent we pay for the place we occupy on earth.

Marg: Right.

Kelly: That’s incredible, I love that. If you could name your top three hopes for the future of Collingwood, what would they be? 

Marg: You know, I really believe that not only is housing a human right that falls sometimes on deaf ears but we have an obligation to ensure that everybody has a safe, secure, affordable, sustainable place to live throughout the world. Not just in Collingwood. Right? 

I mean, it’s fundamental. It’s as important as air and water. You know, in our own functioning. So my dream would be that everybody in our community would have that; that would be certainly number one. 

Number two would be that we could help people who are not vulnerable in the community to understand the magnitude of the problem, the impact and the consequences of not addressing the problem, and to change from what typically we see as a NIMBYism, you know, not in my backyard, to a YIMBYism attitude embracing, yes, in my backyard. That we can do these things if we all pull together as a community and then I think, thirdly, that people would have an understanding of how it ties to our economy and our economics. You know, we have thousands of positions that we are going to have to fill in the next six years in our region. 

Kelly: Okay.

Marg: And we have an outflow of our workforce as opposed to an inflow. So sustaining what we have is hard enough. But growing that workforce, that’s a real threat. 

Kelly: So we have an outflow because of affordability. 

Marg: Correct.

Kelly: Okay. 

Marg: And we’re not just talking, you know, people automatically assume that we’re talking about supportive housing or shelters. No, we’re talking about nurses and police officers and teachers and doctors–

Kelly: working class 

Marg: –who are not able to afford to live in our community anymore. If they’re all gone, what’s our quality of life? 

Kelly: Yeah, it’s not much to sustain the community, is there? 

Marg: Exactly. 

Kelly: Wow. 

Marg: And, you know, I think the other thing people don’t think about is the amount of money that we pay on shelter is one thing. What’s left is another. If there’s so little left, you can’t afford to go to the dentist. You can’t afford to go to a local restaurant, buy art, shop local. All the things that we talk about that sustains our economy. You can’t do it if you’re spending 70, 80% or more of your income on shelter. 

Kelly: Yeah, and that’s the truth, right? All of those niceties are absolutely not attainable at that point. 

Marg: Yeah. 

Kelly: Right. Wow. Well, Marg, thanks so much for taking the time to meet with us today. It’s been great chatting with you and getting your insights. And certainly, thank you so much for the role that you’ve played in contributing in our community and getting the needle moving forward at around affordable housing. 

Marg: And thank you, Kelly, for the work that you do, making it happen. 

Kelly: Thank you.

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