News

Ontario misses the mark with housing plan

Nov 29, 2010 - Earlier today the Government of Ontario released their long awaited and much delayed long term affordable housing strategy.  There was much hope that after more that 6 months of consultations, over 1000 written submissions and a full year of writing that Premier McGuinty and his administration would provide a bold vision for affordable housing in Ontario.  

They did not. Instead they opted to package a handful of reforms as a comprehensive housing plan, while failing to act on key areas that ACORN members, tenants, housing experts and others had been advocating for.

This Magazine Covers the Living Wage Movement

In the issue of This Magazine (this.org) that came out this week was a short piece looking at ACORN Canada and living wage campaigns.

We’re excited to have helped win the first living wage policy in the country in New Westminster BC - and are excited about the prospects of Ottawa becoming the second ‘living wage’ city in Canada as early as this spring.

Here’s sneak peak at the article from This Magazine:

The New Westminster proposal was promoted by a diverse amalgamation of groups, including [ACORN Canada], the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Hospital Employees’ Union, and First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition.

A similar coalition in Ottawa is looking to build upon this example. In September, ACORN Canada brought in speakers from New Westminster to help educate the people of Ottawa on how higher wages can benefit workers and the economy without burdening taxpayers.

You can read the whole article at: http://this.org/magazine/2010/11/10/living-wage-bylaw/

It’s a great piece and we’re really excited that This Magazine has picked up on it.

Toronto Star: Anti-Poverty activists take wait and see approach to dealing with Mayor Ford

Oct 30th, 2010 by Laurie Monsebraaten in the Toronto Star

Downtown Toronto may still be reeling from last week’s municipal election, but in the city’s suburbs where Rob Ford swept every ward, anti-poverty activists and social service agencies are cautiously optimistic.

“We’re hopeful,” said East York mother Elise Aymer, of ACORN, a 20,000-member group of low- and moderate-income residents in the city which champions tenants’ rights, living wages and tighter rules for the payday loan industry.

“I think Rob Ford’s message of fiscal accountability resonated with many Torontonians of low- and moderate-income,” she said.

Aymer lives next to the ethnically diverse and economically challenged Crescent Town area, one of the city’s 13 priority neighbourhoods targeted for social investment under outgoing Mayor David Miller.

“I hope (Ford) will keep in mind the needs of low- and moderate-income people and the things ACORN fights for,” she said.

Unlike the 1995 provincial election when Conservative leader Mike Harris demonized the poor as “welfare cheats,” there was very little poor-bashing in Ford’s campaign, said social policy expert John Stapleton.

“Ford has a very strong populist bent and the man has spent a lot of time in public housing talking to people who are down on their luck,” he said.

“It’s just so unclear how it will shake out at city hall with him in the mayor’s office.”

Ottawa EMC: Red tents occupy Parliament Hill

Oct 28th, 2010 by James Rubec in the Ottawa EMC

EMC News - Affordable housing advocates are set up red tents on Parliament Hill on Tuesday, Oct. 19, to highlight the need for a federal housing strategy and the growing concern about homelessness across the country.

The demonstrations came on the eve of the final debate in the House of Commons on Bill C-304, an NDP bill that would commit Ottawa to drafting a plan that would address the housing issue.

Before this third and final reading, the Bloc Quebecois had been dragging its heels, choosing to leave Quebec out of the plan. However on Wednesday, they changed their minds and the plan had to be sent back to committee and adjusted. A date for a final vote is now up in the air, but advocates are optimistic about the bill's future.

Rabble.ca: Protesters call for a federal affordable housing strategy

Oct 20th, 2010 by John Bonnar on Rabble.ca

Mike Creek was once homeless so he knows how difficult life is for people living on the streets and in the shelter system.

“It’s a shame that we live in this country and we don’t even have a housing strategy,” said Creek at a rally Tuesday outside the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing in Toronto, part of a national day of action to support Bill C-304. “We need to put pressure on our MP’s to make sure that this bill gets passed.”

Bill C-304, an Act for a National Housing Strategy introduced by NDP MP Libby Davies last year, will be up for final debate Wednesday in the House of Commons.

“You need to pick up a phone and call your MP and tell them you want a housing strategy now,” said Creek who works with people every day who have experienced homelessness. “I see what a home can do in their lives. Without a good home you’re impossible to do anything.”

Creek is the coordinator of the Toronto Speakers Bureau, Voices from the Street, where he learned research, public policy and public speaking. He is one of three Ontario directors on the board of the National Anti-Poverty Organization (NAPO), and is also a board member of the Gerstein Crisis Centre.

A psychiatric consumer/survivor who has overcome cancer, physical and mental abuse, homelessness, and poverty, he believes that housing is a human right.

“Subsidized housing is wonderful but it’s also got to be safe and secure,” said Patricia Diaz. “My daughter at the age of 12 was raped and at 13 was gang raped in those areas.”

Edward Lantz, the chair of the St. Jamestown chapter of ACORN which has been fighting for affordable housing for the last six years, said people have to decide every month whether to pay the rent or buy food.

“And that’s why we have a large influx to the food banks,” he said. “Many live in squalor conditions, paying fair market rent for shanty dwellings.”

In 2006, the United Nations called on Canada to immediately tackle its national housing crisis. It said that the federal government “needs to commit stable and long-term funding and programmes to realize a comprehensive national housing strategy, and to co-ordinate actions among the provinces and territories, to meet Canada's housing rights obligations.”

As of June 2009, according to the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, there were 140,000 households on municipal waiting lists for affordable housing. In Ontario, the number of applications has increased 9.6 per cent in the last two years.

“Canada remains the only country of the G8 nations that does not have a national housing program,” said Lantz. “And this is unacceptable.”

In Ontario, he said that the government promised ACORN that it would release its report on affordable housing in June. But ACORN still hasn’t received anything.

“So Mr. McGuinty, get your ass in gear and lets get some affordable housing down here from the provincial level as well,” said Lantz, who also had a message for Toronto municipal politicians and candidates.

“We find it imperative that city councilors and the new mayor demand affordable, livable housing from the provincial and federal governments for all people.”

Including parents with disabled children.

Sylvia Villaron has a 14-year-old multiple handicapped child, one of 4.4 million disabled Canadians. There are thousands of families who are caring for severely disabled children; one third of young children with disabilities come from families living below Statistics Canada’s low income cutoff.

“Having a child with a disability is linked with family poverty,” said Barbara Germon, a social worker with Bloorview Holland Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. “It is no surprise that families of children with disabilities are over-represented in their need for affordable housing.”

Disabled children and their families wait for up to 12 years before they can move into an affordable housing unit. In the meantime, they pay market rent to live in overcrowded, inaccessible basement apartments with little space for wheelchairs or other equipment.

“Parents carry disabled children up and down stairs,” said Germon.

Ken McLeod is a member of the Dream Team, a group of consumer survivors that advocates for more supportive housing for people living with mental health and addictions issues. He grew up in a troubled home with an alcoholic father and experienced feelings of worthlessness. Eventually he became socially isolated and was never able to hold down a job so he could afford a permanent place to live.

“But I’m one of the lucky ones who is recovering from mental illness by having access to a safe, secure affordable home,” said McLeod, who lives in Houselink Community Homes, a supportive housing agency that helps members keep their homes even through episodes of serious illness.

“Supportive housing is the most cost efficient way of addressing the issue of homelessness,” he said. A 2008 City of Toronto report stated that a one-day hospital stay costs the province $1048, a psychiatric in-patient bed $665, incarceration $143 and emergency shelter $69.

“It costs the province only $55 a day to house someone in supportive housing who has experienced homelessness or mental illness. The math is simple. So should be the solution.”

In the past, Canada had a national housing strategy. But in 1993, Finance Minister Paul Martin announced that the federal government would no longer fund affordable housing projects.  Three years earlier, when in opposition, Martin criticized the Conservatives for doing little to solve Canada’s housing problems.

“When you don’t have a home you don’t belong,” said Dri, a long time resident of Tent City, Toronto’s first major settlement formed in 1998 when a group of homeless individuals built shacks and lean-tos on a property on the waterfront owned by Home Depot.

“No matter where you are somebody can ask you to move along.”

Original article available at: http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/johnbon/2010/10/protesters-renew-call-federal-housing-strategy

New West Newsleader: Landlord misses cleanup deadline

October 12th by Michael McQuillan in the New Westminster Newsleader

A landlord who is evicting a 63-year-old woman from her New Westminster apartment did not meet an order from the city and the Fraser Health Authority to make the woman’s suite safer.

According to Fraser Health, the landlord was unable to comply because they could not get access to Catherine Battersby’s suite. But the woman’s son, Sean Neilson, says the landlord never contacted her before the deadline.

Van-East Investors Inc. of Vancouver was given until Sept. 30 to have a pest control company deal with a mouse infestation and correct sanitation problems in Battersby’s Carnarvon Street apartment.

After an inspection by Fraser Health and a City of New Westminster bylaw officer, the property owner was issued the compliance order Sept. 16.

“My mother has had to deal with mice and black mould since the day she moved in here,” said Neilson. “And all those times we’ve complained and nothing has been done.”

The pest control company finally got into Battersby’s apartment and other problem suites in early October. The company is using traps and bait to rid the apartments of the rodents, says Fraser Health.

“That won’t do much good if the mice are living in the walls,” said Neilson, who is now paying his mother’s $690 monthly rent.

Neilson says he is also going to fight his mother’s eviction notice and already has an Oct. 18 date scheduled for a Residential Tenancy Branch arbitration meeting.

Battersby, who suffers from spinal stenosis—a gradual narrowing of the spinal canal that can cause pain and weakness—enlisted the help of ACORN Canada in early September. ACORN has fought for low income tenants in New Westminster in the past.

The group staged a rally Sept. 10 on her behalf—after she was given the eviction notice so the landlord could renovate the suite.

ACORN spokesperson Amanda Boggan said Battersby’s situation highlights the need for policy change at both the municipal and provincial levels.

“We want to see the city create policies that will not give permits to landlords to take on renovations that will result in a tenant’s eviction,” said Boggan.

“And the province needs to put a cap on the increases a landlord can put on a vacant suite. Currently, there are no regulations in place for this.”

— With files from Sean Kolenko

Original article available at: http://www.bclocalnews.com/greater_vancouver/newwestminsternewsleader/news/104780924.html

Oct 19th Day of Action for Housing

Bill C-304 is a private members bill that would require the federal government to develop a national affordable housing strategy.  The bill is up for a final vote this fall (likely on or around October 20th) and key organizations including ACORN Canada are mobilizing to build support for its passage.

Working in coordination with Canada Without Poverty, Pivot Legal, the Red Tents Campaign and many others ACORN members are holding actions in Ottawa and Surrey October 19th.  

It’s been almost two decades since the federal government handed off responsibility for housing to the provinces, making Canada the only G-8 country without a national housing strategy. The end result is a housing crisis that the UN described as a “national emergency.”

Check back soon for times and locations of events.

NOW Magazine: Voices in the void

Oct 1st, 2010 by Ellie Kinzer in the NOW Magazine Toronto

The emergency meeting of One-Toronto that brought 300 to the Church of the Holy Trinity Monday night, September 27, was both gratifying and slightly impossiblist.

The proceedings, which moved with military precision and no audience participation (save a Tabby Johnson singalong), were geared to reframing the current election debate. Backed by a coalition of labour, arts, enviro and social justice groups, OneToronto is dedicated to a vision of the city that “builds on its successes, cares for its neighbours, protects the environment and values community.”

So far, so good.

Chair John McGrath tells the enthusiastic crowd that he’s troubled by the negativity in the campaign. “There’s too much no and not enough yes,” he says, laying out OneToronto’s terms: “We won’t be endorsing any candidate; we want candidates to come to us to adopt our approach.”

Then a roster of impressive activists takes to the stage. Tam Goossen makes a pitch for pushing diversity issues, and Toronto Environmental Alliance’s Franz Hartmann says people have bought into the notion that something is terribly wrong with our city, but there are huge strengths we have to build on.

Annie Kidder scores thunderous clapping when she warns, “Beware of those who want to cut the fat from the system: one man’s or woman’s fat may be another’s flesh and bones.”

Prince Waifeh, an Acorn member, says, “Politicians ignore low-income people, so low-income people are ignoring the politicians.... We have to talk about issues that really matter.”

And former mayor David Crombie offers eloquent pleas for grassroots processes and reminisces about his youthful fight to save this very church, stressing that “the public has to be the push behind City Hall.”

Believe me, I really want to get excited, but my engines, I’m afraid, are starting to sputter. Animator-in-chief Jack Blum of REEL Canada urges the repetition “until you’re sick of it” of the following: 1) Facts, not fury. 2) Protect what’s great about the city. 3) My city includes everybody.

The idea is to ask candidates these questions: how would they tackle climate change, improve city services, invest in communities and further equity and diversity?

Everyone is told to write letters to editors, send video clips to OneToronto’s YouTube channel (onetoronto.ca), tweet messages to the site and text five friends to get them to email questions to candidates.

“We want to get more voices out there than the ones we hear,” says McGrath. Suddenly, sparks of light flicker through the sanctuary as cellphones get turned on for the networking effort.

Here’s my problem. I love all the stuff where people find each other online and feel all mass-movementish. Still, if the purpose is to thump Rob Ford, folks in this room contacting five of their buddies isn’t really going to be that effective, if you see what I mean.

More importantly, I’m not sure whether this crowd under the vaulted ceiling realizes what mix-and-match policy weirdness there is in this election. The David Miller legacy (if we dare use the word), though unacknowledged, hangs in the atmosphere.

So amidst all the chatter on fiscal responsibility and value for tax dollars, you’ll see even conservative-minded candidates, Fordists excluded, scraping together positions on OneToronto’s four concerns. It’s happening on the ward level, too. But while you can ask the four questions, what are the correct answers?

All mayoral hopefuls – minus Ford, who sticks rigidly to script – appear to favour the priority area plan and the liveable city. Conservative Sarah Thomson (no longer a candidate) pushes radical road tolls. Right-wing Rocco Rossi now likes bike lanes and wants to dramatically increase arts funding. George Smitherman’s got the Green Energy Act covered, but he’s also put privatizing garbage service on the table, and a tax freeze.

The truth, it seems, is more than a few questions away. But beyond references to the “values we share,” policy fine points aren’t a big item in the pews tonight. It’s all cozy and fun, but I’m really not sure we’ve made much headway.

Toronto Star: The 39% Problem

Sept 20th, Daniel Dale 2010 by Toronto Star

Mark Woodnutt stands outside a Toronto Community Housing building in St. James Town. As he speaks to a reporter, a man with an unkempt beard and a baseball cap watches him intently.

“Sometimes we really need to convince people that their vote counts,” says Woodnutt, a volunteer with the advocacy group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). “There’s a certain amount of apathy, and — “

“You here for the election?”

Woodnutt wheels to face the man who interrupted him. His name is Mohamed Gedi. As it turns out, he is not at all apathetic.

Gedi, a 31-year-old tenant, is wearing a “Global warming ain’t cool” T-shirt.

In the past, he has voted for Jack Layton in a federal election and George Smitherman in a provincial election.

He wants the local bus stop moved to a more convenient location, he says, and then, unprompted, criticizes controversial statements Rob Ford has made about gays and immigrants.

Then he has a question, which illustrates the lack of clarity about municipal elections in voters’ minds: “How,” he gently asks Woodnutt and two ACORN leaders, “is the mayor elected? Is it like a prime minister is elected — same system as provincial, federal? Everyone belongs to a party?”

Voter turnout in the 2008 federal election, 59 per cent, was a record low. So was turnout in the 2007 Ontario election, 53 per cent. Both of those figures prompted rounds of national and provincial hand-wringing. But turnout in the 2006 Toronto municipal election was much worse.

The official figure was 39 per cent. The true figure may well have been lower; about 250,000 foreign-born residents whose citizenship could not be confirmed were purged from the voters’ list two months before the election.

Politicians at all three levels face some of the same impediments to their get-out-the-vote efforts: cynicism, indifference, frustration. Municipal elections, however, pose unique challenges.

Campaign budgets are smaller, an average of $26,867 in 2006. Campaign volunteers are harder to recruit. The leaflet, not the television advertisement, is the primary advertising medium.

Perhaps more significantly, because incumbent councillors almost always win, it can be hard to convince constituents that voting is worth the effort. Denied the helpful shorthand of a party label, council candidates can also find it difficult to explain how they differ from their opponents.

A large number of voters, meanwhile, lack critical knowledge about the municipal political system. Many, says Mohamed Dhanani, who is challenging Councillor John Parker in Ward 26 (Don Valley West), do not understand that the mayor has the same one vote as every councillor. Many others, says Sharad Sharma, who is challenging Councillor Suzan Hall in Ward 1 (Etobicoke North), believe, as Gedi did, that municipal elections are explicitly partisan.

“Coming from India into the Canadian system,” says Sharma, a first-time candidate who immigrated in 2002, “I believed people would be more advanced, more knowledgeable, and the voter will be more informed. But, ironically, I found it entirely the opposite.”

That Sharma’s Ward 1 had the lowest turnout in the 2006 municipal election, 33 per cent, would not surprise political scientists. Eighty per cent of ward residents were visible minorities; 64 per cent were immigrants; average household income was $16,000 below the citywide average.

Much of Toronto’s voter turnout problem is thought to be the inescapable result of such demographic factors. Some groups, the conventional wisdom suggests, do not show up at the polls no matter what.

This notion is challenged by an unpublished statistical analysis of 2006 Toronto voting by Myer Siemiatycki, a politics professor at Ryerson University, and graduate student Sean Marshall.

They found only a tiny correlation between income and turnout. They also found that turnout in immigrant-heavy wards was significantly closer to turnout in wards with small immigrant populations than in 2003, when the percentage of immigrants in a ward was the key factor related to ward turnout.

The factor that most affected changes in ward turnout between 2003 and 2006 was the competitiveness of council races — suggesting that local dogfights can bring people to the polls no matter what their demographic characteristics.

Ward 26, which includes both the detached homes of leafy, wealthy Leaside and the cramped low-income apartments of Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park, had the highest turnout in 2006. Its race was a no-incumbent free-for-all involving 15 candidates. Parker defeated Dhanani by only 214 votes.

“I think what these results say to candidates is don’t take any voters for granted, and don’t presume there is any group in Toronto that cannot be mobilized to turn out and vote if they perceive there are issues and candidates that are speaking to their concerns,” says Siemiatycki.

“There is volatility to voter turnout and participation. Gone are the days where you could predictably generalize about which groups will vote, what the correlations might be between demographics and voting. They are susceptible to contextual influence; they are not systemic and inherent.”

It is not clear, however, whether turnout differences between areas with few immigrants and many immigrants, and between areas with low income and high income, shrunk in 2006 because immigrants and the poor started voting in greater numbers or because non-immigrants and the rich neglected to participate given that the mayoral outcome was certain.

The traditional disparities, Siemiatycki says, may reappear this year. And given that the mayoral campaign has centred on issues of spending and taxes, he says, home ownership may reassert itself as a key factor. In 2006, he found, areas with high tenant populations managed to slightly outvote areas with high ownership rates — a reversal from the historical norm.

Regardless, he says, “Total voter turnout remains pathetic.”

Better Ballots, a local advocacy group, has drafted 14 changes to the municipal election system, partly in an effort to boost turnout. These include holding the election on a weekend, adding term limits for councillors and introducing municipal parties. If electoral changes are made, says project lead Rob Newman, “then maybe people would feel that their vote would count, and they would come out.”

Leaside is the highest-turnout part of Parker and Dhanani’s highest-turnout ward. Many of its residents do not need to be told their voices are important; in sidewalk interviews this week they described a community of politically savvy professionals highly concerned about their city and their neighbourhood.

“It’s a really involved neighbourhood in every aspect,” says Merzana Martinakis. “Schools, safety; parents are always volunteering, they’re on every single board. . . .”

“We’ll be away, so we’ll go to the early poll,” says Lynne Cook, 57. “That’s how important voting is to us.”

In St. James Town earlier the same afternoon, ACORN’s Edward Lantz slowly attempted to persuade tenant Kim Nguyen, 55, to support candidates who support tenant rights. But when Lantz directly urged her to vote, Nguyen, an immigrant from Asia, said, “Me? I’m too small. . . ”

EMC Ottawa: Ottawa ACORN demands change

Sept 30th, 2010 by James Rubic in EMC Ottawa

EMC News - The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) have started a campaign that will change how the City of Ottawa does business.

Last year ACORN Ottawa announced that it didn't want tax dollars going to fund any full-time jobs that don't pay at least $13.50 per hour, or a living wage.

Direct employees of the City of Ottawa already get this, but this is not the case for services that are contracted out by the city to private companies.

"This is patent hypocrisy," said Michelle Walrong, a member of ACORN's tenant advocacy group.

"If the city is willing to pay a living wage to their own employees, a living wage that keeps them above the poverty line, why wouldn't they demand the same treatment for the employees that contractors who work for the city employ?"

ACORN wants all contractors that are hired by The City of Ottawa to pay their workers a living wage.

To do this, ACORN pushed on city council to make a bylaw stipulating that all contractors must pay their fulltime employees at least $13.50 per hour to even bid on a contact from the City of Ottawa.

Currently the city subcontracts workers like janitorial staff or security guards typically to the lowest bidder.

Last spring, at a community and protective services committee meeting, councillors chose to propose that this plan be introduced as part of the city's official poverty reduction strategy.

The campaign then went to full council where it was decided that municipal staff would look into the idea, to assess its viability and come to a decision in December.

Last week, ACORN kicked off a public relations campaign to explain what a living wage is with a wage forum at City Hall Sept. 22.

ACORN Ottawa brought heroes of the fight for decent wages to speak at Champlain Hall.

One man, Dave Tate, sits as the chair of the New Westminster, B.C., ACORN group, which was the first city that managed to install a living wage policy.

"B.C. has the lowest minimum wage of any province, at $8 dollars an hour. In New Westminster, our minimum wage for a full time employees is $16.50 an hour," said Mr. Tate. "If someone is working full time for a company, and they aren't make the living wage, they are living in poverty. They'll never be able to get off the treadmill."

The living wage that ACORN is proposing for Ottawa is enough to support one person. An individual will be able to pay rent, buy groceries, buy clothes and operate a car with a full-time job paying $13.50. Anything less and the individual would have to start making sacrifices, typically in either food or clothing.

"This is just the beginning, if we can set this standard with the city, we'll be able to set this standard with all private businesses in the future," said Ms. Walrong. "If you don't pay an employee a living wage, they will need to access more social services, be that a food bank, or welfare. It costs society less to just pay people fairly."

ACORN Canada has 30,000 members organized into 20 neighbourhood chapters in four cities in Canada. To learn more about ACORN and their living wage campaign visit www.acorncanada.org.

Globe and Mail: The silver lining of community action

Sept 20th, 2010 by Dakshana Bascaramurty in the Globe and Mail

It took a decade of living on a busy regional road in Saint Catharine’s, Ont., before Genevieve Conn Bailey was able to call it a “neighbourhood.”

There’s no sidewalk along the traffic-congested street and each house is on a huge lot.

“It doesn’t lend itself to walking over to borrow a cup of sugar,” Ms. Conn Bailey, a retired educator, says.

But last fall, when she received a notice in the mail that an iconic farmhouse across the road, as well its verdant tree canopy (home to the city’s oldest tree), would be razed to make room for two new properties, she decided it was time to meet the neighbours. She knew she needed help to stop the development.

While suburban development and condo living have helped us become a more individualized society (no need to say hi to the neighbours if you leave home by car via the garage), there seems to be one thing that brings neighbours together: shared grievances.

Whether it’s the absentee landlord who just won’t fix the hot water or the city planners who decide it’s a good idea to build a condo tower in the middle of a heritage district, neighbours are finding that common frustrations can be the launch point to friendships they may never have made otherwise.

After Ms. Conn Bailey read the letter from the city, she began knocking on doors of neighbours she’d never met before, asking them what they thought about the development – some said they didn’t care.

“I never felt it was a neighbourhood before, but I started calling it that to get everyone feeling like there was a sense of community and they had to get involved and fight it,” she says.

She held a meeting at her house, collected more than 100 signatures on a petition to stop the development, and even hosted a fundraising barbecue to raise money to hire a planner to look into the issue and to formally file an appeal with the Ontario Municipal Board.

After several stressful months, she and her neighbours declared victory this summer: The board ruled that the local homeowner who wanted to develop further could not create two new building lots on the historic piece of land.

An even greater result of Ms. Conn Bailey’s work?

“I think it just created a greater sense of community and it just gave me a greater sense of belonging that I’m not sure I ever had,” she says.

At a yard sale she had a few weeks ago, neighbours pulled into her driveway to check out her wares – something she says they never would have done before.

“I know where they’re going on their vacations and I know a little bit about their families. And people wave!” she says.

Erica Marx, who grew up in a rural community, was used to turning to neighbours for everything, including rides to school when her car broke down.

After she moved to her first apartment in Ottawa 17 years ago, she didn’t learn any of her neighbours’ names.

Four years ago, when the mother of six transplanted her family to a house in an Ottawa community managed by a large rental firm, she realized she had to join forces with others. The complex had been plagued for years by mice and bedbug infestations and tenants complained about management neglecting maintenance requests.

Ms. Marx started attending meetings held by the community-based organization ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) to hear tenant complaints and became vocal about her own grievances.

The efforts of Ms. Marx and ACORN recently prompted a city councillor to set up a hotline for area residents to file formal complaints about management issues.

There are people in the community she says she wouldn’t have met had it not been for sharing their frustrations at monthly meetings.

“Some of them are so happy to see me because of some of the ways we've been dealing with [the management company] that they'll hug me,” she says.

When she’s grocery shopping in the neighbourhood, people ask about her children – a custom she thought she’d left behind in the country.

Betsy Donald, a geography professor at Queen’s University, says the recent mobilization of apartment tenants and rise of neighbourhood associations is the result of governments withdrawing from services and downloading them to families and communities.

“It has a lot to do with a shared vested interest and passion for your place,” Professor Donald explains. “It’s a shared emotional geography. It’s territorially bound. It’s not just about property values – it’s a deeper emotional connection to a place.”

While community organizing doesn’t always result in the same kind of success Ms. Conn Bailey and Ms. Marx have enjoyed, sometimes the simple act of venting can build neighbourly bonds.

When Jason Tompkins, a 28-year-old customer service representative, moved from his family home in Burlington, Ont., to a high-rise in downtown Toronto in June, it was a big adjustment. Instead of sharing a home with his parents, he was in a building filled with hundreds of tenants spread over more than 20 floors. He never said more than “hi” or flashed a half-smile at his neighbours when he saw them in the hallway.

There were some gripes he had with the building: One or two of the building’s three elevators was often out of service, the ear-piercing fire alarm seemed to go off multiple times a week and twice his hot water service was inexplicably cut off. But he just dealt with it privately.

But then one day, all three elevators shut down. He came home from a Sunday night grocery trip and found the lobby flooded with tenants, all waiting to get up to their floors. Instead of standing around in silence like usual, they were abuzz.

“And so everyone's talking about the elevators, and then management doesn't care about maintenance issues, and other stuff like that,” he says. He joined in on the ranting session until he caved and walked up to his apartment.

And when people are too shy to chat with neighbours face-to-face, technology has given them opportunities to mobilize.

When Mr. Tompkins discovered a Facebook page one tenant had created for residents, he started swapping horror stories with others about management failings.

“It's good to get to know people and know that I'm not the only one suffering here. Sometimes management flick the problem off as someone being a problem tenant but I don't see that as the case,” he says.

While Mr. Tompkins says he’s pleased he’s gotten to know some of his fellow tenants through the Facebook page and waiting-for-an-elevator venting sessions, he can’t help but think, “I wish we had something more positive to talk about.”

CTV News: NDP's Dinovo tables bill to fight bedbugs

Sept 18th, 2010 by CTV News

NDP MPP and Housing Critic Cheri DiNovo is tabling a Private Members’ Bill in legislature tackling tenant’s rights issues, including bed bugs.

One of the components of the proposed bill of rights for tenants is better landlord licensing guidelines.  The bill calls for rental units to be declared bed bug-free before a landlord’s rental license is renewed.

“The real answer to the growing bed bug problem is better tenant’s rights,” DiNovo said in a Queen’s Park press conference Thursday morning.

Edward Lantz, chair of the St. Jamestown chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, echoed DiNovo’s statements at the conference, saying “we need new legislation that protects tenants and holds landlords accountable.”

DiNovo’s bill goes beyond holding landlords’ responsible for bed bug infestations. It also calls for better rent control and establishes greater protection and improved access to justice for tenants.

Toronto Sun: MPP's private bill would licence landlords

Sept 18th, 2010 by Antenela Artuso -Toronto Sun

Landlord licencing would ensure property owners evict bedbugs from units before renting them out to unsuspecting tenants, NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo says.

Under a private member’s bill to be introduced by DiNovo next week, landlords who fail to respond to such infestations would be ineligible for renewal of their licence.

“This is working in a number of other jurisdictions across Canada and the United States,” DiNovo said Thursday.

Carolyn Peters, who worked as a rental agent at a Toronto building complex, said she was ordered to show infested units to potential tenants.

“I almost quit my job the very first week I was there, and I almost quit it because of bedbugs,” Peters said. “I was terrified of getting them when I found out the extent of the problem. The building was infested.”

Peters resolved to only show vacant units that had been steamed and then sprayed.

After almost six months, she was told to begin showing infested occupied units and a short time later she and the employer went their separate ways.

Toronto Sun: Woman sleeps on balcony to escape bedbugs

Oct 2nd, 2010 by Ian Robertson in the Toronto Sun

East York resident Lori Howard would dearly love to come in from the cold.

But since bedbugs began biting inside her new flat, she has been sleeping — and changing clothes — on her 10th floor balcony.

“I never had it before,” Howard said Saturday, a day after joining an Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now protest outside the 15-storey privately owned Dawes Rd. building.

ACORN, a tenant activist group, staged the rally to publicize the infestation.

Two days after leaving Vaughan and moving into her new $775-a-month one-bedroom unit, Howard began noticing nasty red bites.

With welts soon all over her body, “I thought I had contracted scabies ... something inside me,” the temporary service factory worker said.

“I’ve seen cockroaches here, but I’ve never found a bedbug ... just blood splotches on my sheets in the morning.

CBC News: Interest groups join election debate

Sept 15th, 2010 by CBC News

With Ottawa's municipal election six weeks away, interest groups are doing their best to push their cause to the forefront of the debate.

Marion Wright, chair of the Alliance to End Homelessness, laid out the group's campaign wish list at a news conference on Monday.

"Affordable housing is a defining election issue," Wright said.

'The youth today will be the families of tomorrow. If they're not in stable housing now then the housing situation is going to get worse.'— Michael Coe

"It's time for candidates to show leadership and vision and start telling voters what they intend to do."

She called on the city to commit to creating 1,000 new affordable housing units each year.

Starting next year, the province will assume about $15 million of Ottawa's social housing budget — and the alliance wants the city to use that money for assisted housing because it won't affect the tax base.

"This is the election to start making things happen," Wright said. "We want to remind voters and candidates that the city has an affordable housing strategy, a poverty reduction plan and an action plan on homelessness.

"These plans will never be successful unless the next council commits significant resources to them."

Michael Coe, who used to be homeless but now volunteers at a shelter, has a message for anyone hoping to become a municipal politician in Ottawa.

"The candidates have to understand that the homeless situation is getting worse in Ottawa," he said. "It's not just them in the downtown core, it's someone that's in Kanata or Orleans that is not far away from losing their houses, and it's families and youth.

"The youth today will be the families of tomorrow. If they're not in stable housing now then the housing situation is going to get worse," he said.

Other interest groups are also pushing to turn their cause into election issues:

  • The Ottawa Taxpayer Advocacy Group is hosting a debate Monday evening on ways council can control what the group calls a "spending problem" at city hall.
  • Ecology Ottawa put out its environmental performance report card, which calls for an increased focus on renewable energy and support for low-income households to make energy efficiency upgrades.
  • ACORN Ottawa is calling for the city to help eliminate poverty by setting the minimum wage at $13.50 an hour.

Ottawa's municipal election is scheduled to take place Oct. 25.


Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/ottawa/story/2010/09/13/ottawa-election-debate-homelessness.html#ixzz0zjMtttyh

CTV British Columbia: Tenants complain over 'renovictions' underway in B.C.

Sept 10th, 2010 by Leah Hendry, CTV BC

Tenants in Vancouver and New Westminster are complaining that they're being unfairly evicted so that landlords can raise their rents, and they're calling on the provincial government to do more to protect them.

Christine Brandt and her husband Mark Moore have received an eviction notice from the Seafield building on Pendrell Street in Vancouver's West End. The notice says that the couple is being evicted to make room for a new property manager, but Brandt says there's a vacant two-bedroom apartment in the building.

"I feel that this is a ruse to break our tenancy, to get us out so they can double the rent," she said. The family currently pays $1,400 per month for the two-bedroom suite.

"Our landlords have an ongoing campaign of trying to pluck us off, one by one."

The building is owned by Gordon Nelson Investments, and tenants say that since the company bought the building two years ago, it's tried various ways to evict tenants, including an attempt to raise the rent by 73 per cent.

That bid was turned down in court.

Representatives from Gordon Nelson refused to be interviewed, but issued a press release saying that they gave Brandt and her family ample notice, and will not be intimidated by what they say are "extortion tactics" for more compensation.

Brandt says she wants to see the province crack down on landlords carrying out so-called "renovictions" -- evicting tenants to make way for things like renovations in a bid to increase rents.

"At some point, I really feel that our province needs to say, with these types of landlords, ‘Enough is enough,'" she said.

Housing advocates say that B.C.'s Residential Tenancy Act has a loophole that puts the most vulnerable tenants at risk.

"This legislation creates an incentive for landlords to allow suites to go into disrepair and then evict tenants and increase the rent. There is no accountability for the landlords to actually do the renovations," said Amanda Boggan of ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

It's something that New Westminster resident Catherine Battersby says she's learning firsthand. She received an eviction notice from her property's landlord claiming that the suite is needed for other use.

But Battersby thinks she's being pushed out because she's asked for repairs.

"I am angry, but I'm not ready to pack my bags and move," she said.

Calls to Minister of Housing Rich Coleman were not returned on Friday

Read more: http://www.ctvbc.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20100910/bc_eviction_co...

24 Hours Vancouver: Protesters want higher minimum wage

Sept 3rd, 2010 by Kristen McKenzie, 24 Hours Vancouver

Labour Day is just around the corner, but some local workers say there’s not much to celebrate this year.

Members of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Canada (ACORN Canada) rallied outside Liberal MLA Harry Bloy’s Burnaby office Thursday protesting the province’s $8 an hour minimum wage.

“What do we want? Higher minimum wage!” the protesters chanted in unison before trying to enter the office, which they found locked.

“We were told yesterday Harry Bloy would be in his office,” said ACORN Canada member Amanda Boggan. “I guess we maybe scared him off or something … we were hoping to convince him that it’s really important for the Liberals to raise the minimum wage right now because people are really suffering. We were hoping he would hear our stories so he could be better informed about the issue.”

“The $8 an hour minimum wage is appallingly low,” the post-secondary student added. “As a mother, people can’t afford to feed their families, feed their children on that low a wage … people are stuck in these [minimum wage] jobs. They really can’t escape them.”

ACORN member Pearl Davis who works at a donut shop, knows all too well the struggles associated with earning a lower wage.

“I’m having a hard time making ends meet,” the New Westminster resident said. “The rent’s always going up, the bills are going up. I can’t go out and do anything. I can’t go on vacation because I can’t afford it. I don’t have any fun. I just sit at home.”

ACORN is advocating an immediate increase in the minimum wage to $10 an hour, a change Davis believes would be a step in the right direction.

“At least it’s a start,” she said.

Bloy wasn’t available for comment.

 

Original article at: http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/News/local/2010/09/02/15229011.html

Living Wage Forum

Come out and hear about the campaign for a living wage policy in Ottawa.

Special guests to include:

  • Dave Tate: Chair of the New Westminster, BC ACORN. New Westminster is home of Canada’s first living wage policy and Dave was a active leader in the campaign.
  • Sean McKenny: President of the Ottawa District Labour Council
  • Ottawa ACORN living wage campaign leaders and others

This election, Ottawa ACORN members want to be sure we elect a city council with a majority of Councillors in support a living wage policy.

RSVP AT: http://livingwages.eventbrite.com/

When September 22nd, 2010 6:00 PM   through   8:00 PM
Location
Ottawa City Hall
110 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, ON K1P 1J1
Canada

View Larger Map

Eye Weekly: Inconvenient vote

August 18th, 2010 by Chris Bilton - Eye Weekly

How do you get the half of Torontonians who don’t own property to actually vote?

There are over 250 candidates running for either mayoral or councillor positions in the municipal election, and yet we only really hear about a handful of prominent players (and far too much about Rob Ford). But this disproportionate coverage seems even more out of whack considering how little attention is paid to the upcoming election’s largest pool of players: the nearly 1.5 million voters.

In particular, tenants — and especially tenants in low-income housing — tend to get overlooked during election campaigns. Some tenants have even gone without having a reasonable place to cast their vote. This problem is more or less systemic, rooted in the fact that tenants are, by the very fact of their tenancy, one step removed from the political process — homeowners have a direct interest in voting during a municipal election since whomever wins will be determining financial realities like property taxes and utilities. Tenants, on the other hand, pay these same fees through a middleman: their landlord. That tenants have a disturbingly lower voter turnout than the rest of the city is almost secondary to the idea that they don’t really get a fair chance to vote.

But since approximately half of potential Toronto voters are tenants, the large problem is relatively simple to target. In the 2010 election, the city hopes to have 647 polling stations serving high-rise buildings (about 43 per cent of the total number of stations), some inside the buildings they serve and none more than 800 feet from them. The total number of stations, however, is actually down from previous years, due to a new accessibility requirement for voting locations (one that’s meant to eliminate barriers like stairs at entrances, etc.). Some groups think we need to do better.

Late last month, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Canada (ACORN Canada) was at City Hall calling for more polling stations in high-rise apartment buildings, citing Ontario voting regulations that state that any building with more than 100 units can have its own polling station. This is residual outrage from February’s provincial by-election, during which there were only three polling stations among the 18 buildings of St. James Town (serving around 10,000 potential voters). Combined with the nagging feeling of neglect that plagues low-income tenants during the municipal election season, this recent example of unfairness perfectly underlines ACORN’s year-old Tenants Vote 2010 campaign, which is raising awareness not only about how important it is for tenants to vote, but how much power a group comprised of half the city’s voters can actually wield.

Of course, the provincial regulation doesn’t apply to municipal elections. Instead, the similarly worded Toronto rulebook says that landlords must provide the space if the city clerk wants to put a polling station in their building. So why doesn’t the city clerk request polling stations in more high-rise buildings?

ACORN member Natalie Hundt, says that the elections office has a goal of adding more polling stations, but can’t do it right now, though they are not forthcoming with the information about what the current barriers are. “They said the funding was not available, but that they wouldn’t be able to share the information about why not — not until after the 2010 election,” she explains.

According to Janet Andrews at Elections Toronto, it’s not quite that simple. Since we are only about two months away from the election, even if they wanted to add more polling stations, there is no way to get more tabulation machines in time. What the department, and especially its newish outreach unit, has been doing instead is focusing on trying to make the election and information about the election more accessible. Over the past year, they, like ACORN, have been raising awareness in low-income areas: partnering with Toronto Community Housing to  go out and actively engage residents in the hows and whys of voting. They’ve made voter registration forms available in buildings and trained staff to help people fill and file them.

This grassroots effort to get tenants registered is essentially the first step forward after the two steps back in 1999, when door-to-door voter registration was scrapped and the whole process was handed off to the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation. They’ve been good at keeping homeowners on the voting list (they deal directly with anyone who buys a home), but terrible at ensuring tenants get the same attention. This is, of course, a painfully familiar tale of a big government organization taking over, whose ineffectiveness forces the city to create a new mini-organization to pick up their slack. At least the elections office is moving in the right direction, even partnering with ACORN to focus on more improvements for the 2014 election.

Supposing that the city is successful in encouraging more people to get involved in this municipal election and ensuring that they have a place to do so, it will only be a matter of time before voters — even tenant voters — will begin to reclaim the attention they deserve.

Original article at: http://www.eyeweekly.com/city/municipal%20affairs%20desk/article/99640--...

Inside Toronto: Smitherman vows 'all-out war' against bedbugs

August 13th, 2010 by Mike Adler - Inside Toronto

George Smitherman says as Toronto's mayor he will "fight the all-out war" that must be waged against bedbugs.

"And some of that will be tough love too, because in some of these buildings our neighbours won't let us in to do what's necessary," said Smitherman, who added the city hasn't done enough to remove the blood-sucking insects in private or public housing.

Other mayoral candidates and hopefuls for council or school board seats gave their views on tenant issues to dozens of activists at an outdoor rally this week.

Organizers from ACORN - the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now - said they are determined to raise the city's low tenant voter turnout this fall and let renters know which candidates share their views.

"We want to let every candidate in the city know that we refuse to be ignored," added Edward Lantz, organizer of the group's St. Jamestown chapter.

ACORN, which last month lobbied to get more polling stations in Toronto apartments, said it sent members into nearby highrises to talk to residents during the Thursday afternoon event on a lawn behind Wellesley Community Centre.

 

Toronto Sun: Tenant issues need voice, rally told

August 12th, 2010 by Kevin Connor - Toronto Sun

Tenants’ issues must be front and centre in the next municipal election, a rally heard on Thursday.

“We are having this action to encourage tenants to vote and we have invited mayoral candidates and council candidates to hear their views,” said ACORN’S Edward Lantz, adding the organization has three main issues for the October vote.

First, the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now wants changes made to the city’s licence standards department.

“These people audit highrise buildings. To date, there are 6,000 highrises in the city and 80% are in disrepair. Over the last two years the inspectors were only in 300 buildings and that is because there are only 13 inspectors. It is going to be a long time to get up to code,” Lantz said.

“In the units with the real problems we need to add more inspectors. Slum lords in Toronto must be regulated.”

ACORN also wants landlords to pay a tenant protection fee to fund the expansion of the inspection program.

“It wouldn’t cost the city a cent,” Lantz said.

Put polling stations in high rise buildings

July 15th - Toronto ACORN members are holding an action at city hall to draw attention to the need for greater accessibility to polling locations in high rise buildings in the upcoming municipal election. 

We are calling on election officials to utilize their power under Section 13.4 of the Ontario Elections Act and place polling stations in all buildings containing 100 or more units where accessible space is available.

Providing increased accessibility in large buildings by providing polling stations is another tool election officials have to help address the endemic low voter turnout in these polls. 

ACORN member Cathy Birch who uses a scooter expresses her reliance on a polling station in her building, saying:

“I live in a building with 300 units and if there wasn’t a polling station I just wouldn’t vote.  There are too many places that are not accessible.  To get in and out of a place that has stairs is impossible, and that essentially takes away my ability to vote.”

ACORN member and St. Jamestown resident Edward Lantz comments:

“They just had a by-election in my riding.  My building has over 400 units and didn’t have it’s own polling station, none of the buildings here did and we have 30,000 people living here.  A lot of people didn’t even know there was an election.”

This event is part of Toronto ACORN’s “Tenants Vote 2010” campaign.  This campaign is working to increase the tenant voter participation rates in areas with high concentrations of low income renters in the upcoming municipal election.

Pages