Healthy Homes - Habitation saine

 
 
Every person deserves affordable, livable housing. In many low income neighbourhoods, tenants live with mold, pests, broken elevators, and other challenges because landlords will not do the repairs needed. ACORN Canada members fight for landlord licensing, building inspections, and stronger enforcement of maintenance rules and by-laws.
 
See our Healthy Homes demands here.
 

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.”

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. . . ”

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.

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.

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.

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...

The Royal City Record: Carnarvon Street tenant claims eviction notice not legal

Sept 13th, 2010 by Alfie Lau, Royal City Record

Catherine Battersby has lived in her Carnarvon Street apartment for six years, has seen three owners come and go, but what she hasn't seen is much maintenance work to her suite or the apartment complex.

Earlier this year, she asked for the mould in her bathroom to be dealt with and the kitchen cupboards to be tightened on the walls and ceiling, but, according to Battersby, nothing was done.

All Battersby says she got for her troubles was an eviction notice, stuffed into her mailbox last Friday (Sept. 3) before the Labour Day long weekend.

The notice states that Battersby is being given two months notice to move out of her large 100-level apartment because the landlord wants to do some major changes and upgrades to the suite.

The owner is extending the notice to Nov. 30, with the proviso that Battersby won't have to pay rent for the month of November.

"That's very nice, isn't it," said Battersby.

Compounding Battersby's woes is the fact she suffers from spinal stenosis, or the deterioration of the disks in her spine, and Battersby is on a waiting list for heart surgery.

"Some days are better than others," she admits. "And getting this notice certainly didn't help."

Also in the notice was a note that the landlord has applied for and received the necessary permits from the city to do the extensive work.

 

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--...

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.

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.

 

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