The Housing Again Bulletin, sponsored by Raising the Roof as a partner in Housing Again.
A monthly electronic bulletin highlighting what people are doing to put housing back on the public agenda across Canada and around the world, sponsored by Raising the Roof as part of the Housing Again partnership.
News for November, 2002
Native Provider to Build New Affordable Housing in Scarborough
Ontario’s oldest and largest urban Native housing provider has begun planning a development that will house almost one hundred Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Wigwamen Incorporated will lease a 0.6 hectare site, 20 Sewells Rd. in Scarborough, at no charge from the city of Toronto for 50 years. The land is currently owned by the federal and provincial governments and will be transferred to the city.
The planned development will have 92 units one-third will be transitional housing targeted to people who are currently homeless while the remainder will be for people who are facing homelessness. The project will also include community rooms, a multi-denominational worship space and a rooftop terrace.
Funding for the project is being contributed by all three levels of government. The City of Toronto is contributing $2.2 million in capital funding and is providing exemptions from development and related charges through its Let's Build Program. The Government of Ontario is providing $579,000 in rent supplements for at least the first five years while the federal government contribution is $2 million through the Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative. Wigwamen Incorporated has committed to contributing $460,000 of its own funds to help make the project a reality.
For more information on new affordable housing in Scarborough click on Housing Again October 15
As Tent City residents settle into housing, squatter demands for affordable housing are still alive across the country. The 58 people who were arrested when police stormed into Vancouver’s Woodward squat are scheduled to appear in court on November 7. Squatters and supportive activists are busy raising a legal defense fund for the defendants. A tent city continues at the site despite the eviction.
Toronto’s Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) were prevented from taking over a downtown building on October 26 by about 100 police in riot gear. The police force included officers from outside of the city. OCAP organizer John Clarke said the attempted take-over was part of a ‘give it or guard it’ campaign where squatters announce their intentions ahead of time to give authorities the choice to let the squat happen or to defend the building with a line of police officers. Clarke said the action is symbolic with city police forces ‘serving and protecting’ empty buildings. (see Bulletin #55 for more details).
For more information on the Woodward Squat Legal Defense click on Housing Again Alert Oct. 1
Tent City Residents House-Hunting
After last month’s eviction of Toronto’s Tent City by landowner Home Depot, the over 100 people who were suddenly displaced are slowly starting to find homes.
The sudden eviction (see Bulletin #55) prompted protestors to shut down a press conference scheduled by Home Depot and then storm into city council chambers during a session about the city’s official plan. By 7 p.m. on the evening of the eviction the city had arranged for temporary shelter. The next day the city announced a pilot project to provide the former squatters with three months’ full rent supplement then rents geared to one-third of their incomes. The city also promised to provide house-hunting help.
So far, about 30 of the over 100 former squatters have found apartments. Street nurse Cathy Crowe, a member of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee who has worked with Tent City residents for over three years, says that the committee is expecting at least 100 people to find housing. All of the apartments are being provided through the private housing market.
"The house-hunting has been hectic and there still are people who are living outside," said Crowe. "But the people who are finding apartments are ecstatic with the places they are getting." Crowe said that not one person has said that they want to go back to Tent City a fact she said proves that what residents wanted all along was decent affordable housing. She said she wonders why the eviction crisis had to happen before governments came forward with a solution.
"I’m glad we did what we did. It was a powerful day when people stormed council chambers," she said. "It took those protests and miraculous city staff members to make this happen."
Investigating Utility-Based Rent Hikes
A complaint that tenants across Ontario are paying hefty rent increases for utility increases that are no longer being paid by landlords has prompted Ontario’s ombudsman to launch an investigation of how the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal is applying the Tenant Protection Act in these cases.
What is significant is the fact that Clare Lewis, Ontario’s ombudsman, has decided to launch an investigation on his own motion. While the ombudsman generally investigates over 20,000 individual complaints each year, he initiates his own investigations only two or three times per year. The investigation was spurred by a letter written last spring by Katherine Laird, legal director of the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario. In it Laird raises three concerns:
* the fairness of the eviction procedure under the Tenant Protection Act;
* the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal’s process to assist a tenant that is illegally locked out by landlord; and
* the above-guideline rent increases due to higher utility costs.
Lewis responded to Laird in late September to announce his decision to investigate the third concern and said his office is making informal inquiries about the other two matters. Laird said that her organization decided to ask Lewis to launch his own investigation rather than bringing forward individual cases because the problem is a systemic one. "Now that the Ombudsman has opened an investigation, we hope to see legislative change to protect tenants from these unfair rent increases," she said.
Peel Pushes for More Funding
Social service providers in the Region of Peel say they can no longer keep pace with the demand for affordable housing and services in their communities. They are calling for the provincial and federal governments to ‘wake up’ to the fact that the region needs more housing and services for a fast-growing population of homeless and people-at-risk of being homeless in the region.
"We have to get past the perception that Peel is a financially well-off community," said Terry Kingsmill, policy co-ordinator for social housing, homelessness and housing initiatives for the Peel Region.
Peel, which encompasses a large part of the western Greater Toronto Area (GTA), includes the municipalities of Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga. Over the past ten years, the population has been growing by about 20,000 people per year. According to the region’s social planning council, Peel has the second highest growth rate among Ontario regions. (York Region, also located in the GTA, has the greatest population increase.) In the past year, the number of people applying for social housing has doubled.
The situation has reached a point where Keith Ward, commissioner of housing and general manager of Peel Living, says victims of family violence, who are a top priority, are waiting a couple of years for housing while conventional single-parent families in need simply aren’t being housed.
Peel has a ‘Fair Share’ task force made up of 70 agencies who say that the provincial funding formula is not keeping pace with the population growth. The task force is pushing for a new provincial funding formula. The region is also putting together a case for more funding from the federal Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative (SCPI).
Kingsmill says the region is currently considered a low priority, (it received $2.83 million in SCPI’s last round of funding) and the process is underway to convince the government that the region should be more of a priority. Kingsmill says the region could easily spend $20 million.
On the bright side, Peel is active in creating new housing with its own resources and is working with consultants to develop community development projects. On the housing front, council has approved the construction of 300 rental units and has approved three other projects in principle that range from 20 to 45 units each. The region is also exploring the possibility of intensifying the number of units on its own properties. Like all of the other regions in Ontario, Peel is waiting for the province to announce how it will distribute funds from the national affordable housing program so it can develop more new housing.
But the solution doesn’t end with housing. The region is also surveying the people who use the shelter system to determine who is able to move on and who is not. So far, findings indicate that about 40 per cent of the people in Peel shelters are working, 23 per cent of these people work full time.
Kingsmill says that the statistics illustrate the fact that one program approach cannot meet the diverse needs of people living in shelters. The region is working on developing programs that move people along a continuum toward self sufficiency. He illustrates the region’s continuum approach using the buzzwords: stabilize, abilize, mobilize.
"Some people may be employed but unable to move beyond supportive housing. Others may be emotionally self-sufficient but in need of some training," he said. "We need programs and services designed for individuals rather than forcing them into a pre-determined program." Kingsmill said the region is looking at community economic development projects such as commercial kitchen and woodworking shops to give people some training and work experience.
"We want to link SCPI projects to programs that involve people in building housing, furniture etc. so they can get the experience and training they need to move forward."