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.
 

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.

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.

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.

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