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CBC News: Advocates lay out how the next city council should tackle London's housing crisis - ACORN Canada

CBC News: Advocates lay out how the next city council should tackle London’s housing crisis

Posted October 13, 2022

Posted on October 12th, 2022

Homelessness and housing affordability are top of mind for many voters ahead of the municipal election in London, Ont.

According to a survey conducted by CBC London, 32.7 per cent of almost 500 respondents said homelessness is a priority issue, and affordable housing mattered most to 21.2 per cent. CBC News gathered the results from the ‘My neighbourhood my vote questionnaire’, which remains open leading up to the vote on Monday, Oct. 24.

So far this year, 1,868 people have identified themselves as homeless to the City of London. That number was 1,378 in 2021. A spokesperson said the City of London is currently developing a new method to track active encampments as part of its involvement in a new community-led task force.

CBC News asked three housing advocates: What can the next city council do to address homelessness and housing affordability in London?

Here’s what they had to say.

Jordan Smith, London ACORN Leader and Tenant

Jordan Smith has been involved with the London chapter of ACORN for over two years, helping the group to lobby on behalf of low and middle-income renters. It’s his way of giving back to the community, he said, as his disability prevents him from working full-time. He relies on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), and has years of experience advocating for his own rights as a tenant.

There are powerful tools already in place for the next city council to put to use, said Smith. The most important of them all is establishing a rent safe landlord licensing program, similar to what’s in Toronto, for holding landlords accountable.

“It’s not just a good idea, it’s a fundamentally necessary idea,” Smith said. “Right now there’s no accountability. It’s completely on tenants to start the process of investigation and then do the investigation, which is completely unfair and puts tenants at a huge disadvantage.”

Smith said London needs a vacancy tax applied to both commercial and residential units, partly to combat Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s 2018 decision to scrap basic rent control, and partly to boost the local economy.

Inclusionary zoning would set aside a certain portion of every development for affordable housing, and add more affordable housing options that aren’t congregated in the same spot.

“We need true leadership, not just people who are willing to fill leadership roles,” Smith said. “We need genuine leaders in this city who are willing to push new ideas that have worked in other communities, and willing to work with community leaders that are already out there on the front lines, putting their blood and sweat into making this community better.”

Sean Horrell, Outreach Coordinator with 519 Pursuit

Sean Horrell is out on the streets five days a week as a volunteer organizer with 519 Pursuit. The small group delivers meals and daily check-ins to those living rough in and around the downtown area.

Horrell says he often encounters people struggling with rental applications for years at a time because they may be on ODSP or Ontario Works.

“Prices are going up all over the place and even to find a one bedroom that is available is a tough battle,” said Horrell. “It gets tougher if you have mental health issues on top of that, if you’re living on the streets and don’t have a phone, can’t keep a phone charged or keep one from being stolen. And so your ability to access the Internet and look for housing independently and communicate in these really functional ways is severely diminished.”

He said that based on responses from the people he serves, the community needs added supports in addition to inclusionary zoning for those in the throes of mental health and substance abuse issues, to help them obtain a stable home.

People living in encampments would like to see an area where they can securely rent a space from the city, so they can avoid breaking bylaws while looking for somewhere permanent to live.

“Any of the locations where encampments exist are currently not legal, they’re just tolerated. And so everyone knows that any minute they could be kicked out, and that’s a psychological stress,” he said.

Horrell said he welcomes newly elected officials to join him and his team for a day of outreach.

“Meet the people that we serve and have some conversations,” he said. “I think that that’s the best way to do it.”

Jacqueline Thompson, Executive Director of LifeSpin

Local charity LifeSpin assists low-income families and individuals, along with seniors and those with disabilities.

Thompson, also a proponent of inclusionary zoning, said many have been struggling with a lack of affordable housing and the rising cost of living. It’s difficult for them to pay for utilities, food and transportation on top of rent, and the need is growing.

“We have always had people looking for affordable housing and there just is not any place to send them to,” said Thompson. “London used to have a housing registry where landlords could register apartments for rent, and that’s gone.”

Families that have little money to spend on housing often end up in unsafe, unsanitary housing situations and then come up against bylaw enforcement. A rent safe program would identify apartments that are safe for people to live in, Thompson said.

She said London needs to have a definition of affordable housing in place.

“For some reason council has shifted to using affordable housing as a synonym for below-market rent housing, which is not what it is at all, and we really need council to bring that back and reclaim the truth of what affordable housing is for our community,” said Thompson.

The incoming council must draft policies ensuring city staff are given clear responsibilities and the resources to implement them, she said. For example, a vacant housing tax could pay for staff that would go on to enforce safe housing bylaws.

But first and foremost, London’s new council will need to be united in its vision of a better city.

“We need to see our residents housed and working in neighbourhoods where they live,” said Thompson. “I hope this council can get it together…they have to work together and that’s where that common vision comes into play. So let’s work together and create some change.”

Article by Angela McInnes for CBC News