Toronto ACORN

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Toronto ACORN win on polling stations

July 25th - Members of Toronto ACORN met with the director of elections for the City of Toronto last week over concerns about the accessibility of polling places in low income neighbourhoods in Toronto.

At the meeting he committed to dramatically increasing the number of high rise building that would have their own polling stations.  The City now hopes to have polling stations in 647 of the high rise buildings with more than 100 units, and that no polling place should be more than 800 feet from a high rise.

This meeting followed an action at City Hall in early July where tenants voiced their concern the City wasn’t doing enough to ensure that high rise tenants would have the same level of access to polling places that are found in many condo towers.

Progress on Affordable Housing

Bill 58, amendment to the planning act passed second reading at Queen's Park yesterday.  If passed the bill would give Ontario's municipalities the power to enact 'inclusionary zoning' policies.  Inclusionary zoning works by granting developers increased density in new residential developments in exchange for including a percentage of affordable housing units.

The bill was brought forward by NDP MPP Cheri Dinovo, and won support from a number of Liberal MPP's as well.  ACORN Canada as been calling the Ontario Government to make inclusionary zoning legislation a key plank in the planned Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy.

Many thanks go out to all of you who sent a message to Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Bradley - his Deputy Minister for Housing MPP Donna Cansfield was one of the Liberal MPP's who voted in support of the bill.  There will be more to come as this campaign progresses.

Inside Toronto: ACORN members call for more apartment polling stations

July 15th, 2010 by Mike Adler - Inside Toronto

For those who find it hard to walk or hard to care, two or three blocks to a polling station is one more reason not to vote.

The City of Toronto can change that by putting a poll in every building with 100 apartments or more this fall, the advocacy group ACORN told municipal election officials Thursday, July 15.

Edward Lantz, a St. Jamestown tenant, handed a letter with that request to staff at the city's election services office and asked for a meeting with City Clerk Ulli Watkis, responsible for poll placement.

Municipal election turnout is low, particularly for tenants, read Lantz. "In the name of democracy, we hope you take this request seriously."

Outside in Nathan Phillips Square, red-shirted members of ACORN - Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now - said tenants with disabilities, seniors and busy single mothers can find even a short walk to a polling station too long.

"There's handicapped people who can't get around and they don't want to go all the way to a school to vote," said Marion Callow, a Weston woman. "There's people that are scared to get around."

ACORN member Mary Blakelock of Scarborough uses a cane and has called candidates for a lift on election day, but said not everyone knows they can do that.

Bonita Pietrangelo, the city's director of elections, said having a poll in every large apartment building would be impossible for this October, given the number of vote tabulators the city has.

The city must have polling stations in retirement homes with 50 or more occupied beds and in institutions for the disabled or chronically ill with 20 beds or more, she said this week.

But for the first time, the city must also ensure all its voting locations are accessible to the disabled, so Pietrangelo said her department is reviewing each one before the election.

Tenants in the demonstration said they will work on removing other barriers to participation, which include, some said, widespread apathy toward politicians who never seem to listen.

If votes from tenants are scarce, "that's because they haven't been heard for a long time," said Lucy Fukushima of Riverdale.

Globe and Mail: Councillors move to get renters to the polls

July 16th, 2010 by Kelly Grant - Globe and Mail

For council speaker Sandra Bussin, the scale of tenant disenfranchisement in Toronto hit home at Hanson House, a seniors complex near Coxwell Avenue and Hanson Street.

The entire building was accidentally dropped from the rolls a few elections back, she said.

The situation wasn’t much better at the Alexandra Park public-housing complex in Councillor Adam Vaughan’s downtown ward in 2006.

“When the polls opened three hours late on election day,” he said, “there were four names on the list.”

Toronto City Council and local election officials are determined not to leave renters out of the 2010 election. But they face an uphill battle adding tenants to a voters list riddled with errors and omissions.

“Right now, the likelihood that a tenant is on the list is virtually zero,” said Ms. Bussin, councillor for Ward 32 Beaches-East York.

Council voted last week to direct the city manager’s office to launch an aggressive outreach campaign in apartments and condos.

Achieving that proved difficult – the city clerk’s office, which oversees municipal elections, presented an outside legal opinion that concluded council couldn’t tell the clerk what to do on an election matter.

After hours of passionate debate, council found a loophole and asked the city manager’s office to build on the efforts of the clerk’s office, which is already working with tenant groups and the Toronto Community Housing Corporation to pump voter turnout beyond a dismal 38.9 per cent in 2003 and 39.3 per cent in 2006.

“What the clerk’s department said was for us to advocate on behalf of tenants is for politicians to interfere with the electoral process and that that would put the entire election in jeopardy,” Mr. Vaughan said. “If someone wants to overturn the results of the election because we made an extra effort to enumerate tenants, we think there’s not a judge in the country that would buy that.”

Renters have tumbled through gaps in the system since 1999, when Queen’s Park farmed enumeration out to the newly created Municipal Property Assessment Corporation and killed the old-fashioned, door-to-door voter registration drive.

Mistakes plague MPAC’s preliminary voters lists across the province, but the problem is especially acute in Toronto, where half of all residents rent and many don’t speak enough English to fill out the paperwork properly.

Whereas owners are added to the voters’ list when they buy a home or business, renters have to rely on the owner of their building to send their names to MPAC.

Assuming that list is correct, MPAC mails an occupancy form to the tenant. Owners receive the same form when they buy. Fifty per cent of homeowners return the form; only 20 per cent of tenants do, said Janet Andrews, Toronto’s manger of elections and registry services.

Like all eligible voters, tenants can still cast a ballot by presenting valid identification and proof of address at a polling place – assuming they can find the correct station.

That’s why ACORN, the controversial activist group, is pushing for Toronto to put polling stations in every building with more than 100 units. “It’s more convenient for people to go into their lobbies,” said Edward Lantz, an ACORN board member and chair of the St. Jamestown chapter, one of seven in Toronto. “We don’t want anybody to get left behind.”

Ms. Andrews called that idea cost-prohibitive in a city with 5,000 residential buildings five storeys or taller. Extra polling stations cost about $8,500 a pop: $8,000 for a new vote-tabulating machine and a minimum of $500 for staff.

Using census data and poll-by-poll counts, Ryerson University professor Myer Siemiatycki found that the percentage of tenants had no impact on voter turnout in 2003 and a slightly positive effect on turnout in 2006. In other words, places with a high concentration of renters actually boasted a voter turnout slightly higher than the average in the last election.

“Until very recently, one of the stock assumptions in the municipal arena was tenants vote at a much lower rate than homeowners,” he said. “The data over the last couple of elections shows that’s a myth. Tenants do vote and they need to be enumerated.”

Inside Toronto: Downtown rally calls for affordable housing

July 13th, 2010 by Justin Skinner - Inside Toronto

Concerned over the lack of a national housing strategy, a group of local activists gathered in Toronto's financial core on Thursday, July 8.

A small group of housing advocates from the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Canada (ACORN Canada) took their pleas to the streets, urging the Harper government to support Bill C-304, tabled by Vancouver East MP Libby Davies.

The bill calls for more funding for safe, affordable housing to help combat homelessness across the country.

Edward Lantz, chair of ACORN's St. James Town chapter, said they opted to lobby at the corner of King and Bay streets because it would be the best place to reach Conservative supporters.

"We don't have a Conservative MP in Toronto, but the majority of the support for the Conservative government comes from down here," he said.

Lantz noted both the Liberals and New Democrats have supported the idea of a national housing strategy. The Conservatives' refusal to support such a strategy, however, has left Canada as the only G8 country without one.

He said the recent G20 Summit showed where the Harper government's priorities lie.

"The current Harper government spent $1.5 billion on the G20," he said. "That could provide 16,000 new (affordable housing) units in the City of Toronto."

With waiting lists for affordable housing at an all-time high - the wait is currently at least 10 years - too many Canadians are forced to spend 30 per cent or more of their monthly income on rent, he said, adding that does not even take into account the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who are homeless, or those living in overcrowded spaces or substandard housing.

"We want landlords to be held accountable and we need rent controls," Lantz said. "The average rent in Toronto for a one-bedroom apartment is $800 to $900, and when you get most people making $13 or $14 and hour, prices have escalated too much."

Fellow ACORN member Carmen Respondek said the need for housing was critical. She echoed Lantz's sentiments that the money spent on G20 security should have gone toward housing instead.

"I was shocked when I heard about the fake lake," she said. "Who needs a fake lake when we don't have affordable housing?"

$100 million in repairs for tenants

$100,000,000.00 in repairs by landlords and inspectors sent to all 5,000+ of the city's high-rise buildings.

That's what 6 years of tenant organizing by Toronto ACORN and countless hours of dedicated members have earned.

The City brought in an enhanced apartment inspection program developed after pressure from Toronto ACORN and tenant groups late last year and now estimate it has resulted in $100 millions in repairs by landlords.  Further, Municipal Licensing and Standards is now sending inspectors to all 5,000+ highrises across Toronto to perform basic audits to find and target the worst buildings for increased inspections.

The program falls short of the comprehensive system of landlord licensing that Toronto ACORN has long campaigned.  Toronto ACORN members have fought for a system with hard financial penalties on negligent  landlords who refuse to maintain their buildings up the legal code.  Toronto ACORN members have held community actions, rallied at city hall, given deputations, and held city wide housing forums to build public support and awareness of the Toronto’s deteriorating housing stock and the need for reform.

ACORN members remain proud of this tremendous progress that has been made and remain committed to working with the City to expand and improve the enhanced inspection program.

Reception 2010

Support Working Families Fighting for a Livable Housing, Living Wages and Fair EI.

This is your chance to come out and celebrate 6 years of ACORN's organizing for justice, meet ACORN leaders, and learn about ACORN's victories.

We have had many important accomplishments in the last year:

  • Improved enforcement of Tenant standards;
  • Thousands of dollars invested by private landlords in apartment maintenance in Toronto and Ottawa;
  • Living Wage Campaigns Launched in Ottawa and Metro Vancouver.

We need your support to continue our organizing and leadership development efforts in low and moderate income communities.

When: May 13th, 2010 6:00-8:30

Where: 25 Cecil St., Toronto

About: The event will feature speakers, campaign highlights, awards, hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar.

For ticket info click here: http://2010reception.eventbrite.com/

Our sponsors

Ontario Minimum Wage Rises

Today, Ontario's minimum wage rises to $10.25 per hour - the third and final rise in the past three years.

It was an assertive community based campaign coupled with the by-election loss in York-South Weston (one of Ontario's poorest ridings) that eventually saw the McGuinty government to reverse its long standing opposition to minimum wage increases. Toronto ACORN members were a critical component of this campaign, packing into Town hall meetings, collecting petition signatures and building community support in working family neighbourhoods across Toronto.

Minimum wages remain one of the most important anti-poverty tools available to governments because of there "trickle-up" impact on wages of other low wage workers.  By raising the wage floor we are able to elevate more workers out of poverty - and not just minimum wage workers - but workers earning near the minimum wage.

Unfortunately, Ontario has no more new minimum wage increases planned, leaving open the possibility of these gains being lost to inflation and cost of living increases in years to come.  Ontario ACORN is calling for the Province to lay out a plan for future raises to bring the minimum wage above the poverty line and to peg the minimum wage to inflation.

Toronto ACORN worked closely with the Toronto District Labour Council as well as a number of other groups to help win this important campaign.

Tenants, allies join forces for tenant protection fee

On March 20th, Toronto ACORN held a forum with community leaders from across the city to renew our commitment to winning a proactive system of apartment inspection in the city.  ACORN members described to the 100+ person audience the long history of our housing campaigns in Toronto and the progress we’ve made up to this point.

At the municipal level, 7 City Councillors attended the event and all signed on to support the levying of a tenant protection fee on large landlords to fund a proactive inspection regime.  Further, they committed to support a motion coming before Council on March 31st that aims to ensure tenant input into any new apartment inspection system.

Unlike previous housing forums held by ACORN, this event included representatives from the Provincial government in support of enhancing provincial support for tenants.

Toronto ACORN is pursuing a meeting with the Minister of Housing, Jim Bradley to discuss our recommendation for provincial enhancements of the laws regulating apartment standards and new tools the municipalities could use to ensure fair housing for tenants.

Livable Housing Forum


March 1st, 2010 - Toronto ACORN is leading the city wide campaign to fix rental housing.

 

Last year the city launched a new inspection regime as a result of a multi-year campaign by Toronto ACORN, tenant groups and our allies on city council.  While this program has seen some results – it’s also further exposed the extent of the problem.

Toronto tenants continue to be forced to endure bed bugs, mold, poor maintenance and other abuses, largely at the hands of a handful of large corporate landlords.

As a next step in Toronto ACORN’s campaign to see the city expand and improve the existing program we are holding a City Wide Forum to rally tenants and announce new supporters of the campaign.

WHAT: Livable Housing Forum
WHEN: Saturday, March 20th, Noon

WHERE:  Main Square Community Centre (245 Main St. just south of Danforth ave.)

 

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