By Rachel Bell 
BELLEVILLE – A lot of residents of Hastings and Prince Edward counties are struggling to make ends meet, according to a local group that works to fight poverty.
“The cost of housing has gone up; what was affordable is no longer affordable,” says Christine Durant, the director of Poverty Roundtable Hastings Prince Edward . “The cost of utilities has gone up. So you have a problem when people’s incomes simply don’t match the cost of living.”
People on fixed incomes are particularly affected, Durant said: “It impacts seniors, people who have disability; it impacts people who are in between employment and are on Ontario Works  or Employment Insurance .”
Minimum-wage workers are also hit hard, she said.
Durant’s organization recently interviewed 500 people throughout the area about income challenges. “One of the things we heard, especially from people in Belleville, was that there’s a plethora of part-time positions and temp work, so a lot of income volatility … not knowing how much you’re going to earn month to month,” she said.
Finding an affordable place to live in Belleville is a challenge for many people, Durant said.
“The issue right now is that there is zero vacancy. There’s no housing that is affordable in the market.”
Low-income people are particularly affected, but even people with higher incomes are having trouble finding housing, she said.
Jessi Odaisky, a 23-year-old film student at Loyalist College who is new to Belleville, says she and her sister, also a student at the college, had a hard time finding a place to live that was close to both the school and services such as grocery stores.
“A lot of (available housing is) downtown, towards Dundas (Street),” Odaisky said. “There’s a few buildings around the school, but not as many as you would think. It’s very lopsided for that.”
The apartment they finally found was far enough away from commercial areas that she was forced to take on another expense: a car.
She and her sister thought their student loans would be enough to live on, but because of the location of the apartment, she has had to take on a part-time job.
“While our location was good for school, because our school is out in pretty much the middle of nowhere, we weren’t around anything else. So going for groceries is like an hour’s trip on the bus, which is not so great when you’re bringing frozen stuff back. Or the whole bus (service) ending at 10 (p.m.) means we can’t go to a movie and make it back on time. We can’t do anything if it requires leaving the house after 8 (p.m.). So now I work because I have to afford a car.”
Odaisky said she was also caught off-guard by all the expenses associated with renting an apartment.
“I’ve never had to consider utilities before. In my last residence everything was included: electricity, water, Internet – everything was in the bundle. So I never really had to look into how much it was. Now the rent is the easy part – it’s everything that comes along with it. Like your hydro – that’s way more than I ever thought it was.”
According to Hastings Housing Resource Centre, a one bedroom apartment in Belleville goes for an average of $915 a month. Add a bedroom, and you’re looking at an average monthly rate of $1,100, while a three-bedroom apartment starts at a whopping $1,400. The cost of housing doesn’t match income; as the Ontario Works shelter allowance is just $376 a month for a single person, and $729 for a family of four. The Ontario Disability Support Program  shelter allowance is $479 a month for a single person, and $886 for a family of four.
Loyalist College student Alexis Poirier who lives with her boyfriend and 18-month-old daughter is another student who is struggling to make ends meet, especially because her family doesn’t qualify for Ontario Works.
“I pay $1,075 for rent, plus my Internet bill, phone bill, and groceries. I also have a car so I pay for gas and car insurance. Money is so tight I feel like I haven’t bought anything for myself in forever. My boyfriend works full-time shift work with 12-hour rotations so I’m unable to work as I need to be home with my daughter at night. We just make it by,” she said.
Anyone with a rental unit available is encouraged to get in contact with Hastings Housing Resource Centre  as the zero percent vacancy is putting residents out on the streets.