Toronto.com: Opinion: Toronto budget should look out for needs of tenants

Posted February 14, 2022

The budget committee of Toronto city council, on Feb. 7, voted down a motion from Coun. Mike Layton to increase funding to ensure low and moderate income tenants have healthy homes. ACORN members and allies have been fighting for a 2022 budget that puts the needs of those hardest hit by COVID-19 front and centre. What we’ve gotten has been a $26-million increase in the police budget and not much else.

In 2020, the city spent $10 million and exempted $64 million in development fees and property taxes to build 972 units of “affordable” housing. Yet, since 2017, it has spent less than $3 million per year to have 28 bylaw enforcement officers ensure property standards are met in 3,500 apartment buildings across the city through the RentSafe program.

While everyone would agree we need more affordable housing, we also know you can’t fill a bucket if there’s a hole in the bottom. Tenants in Toronto are dealing with landlords who delay repairs, ignore pests and actively try to get long-term tenants to move out in order to flip the unit and jack the rent.

The most recent briefing note on RentSafe is startling. While the number of calls to 311 for property standards violations hit a record high, the percentage of calls resulting in enforcement action on the landlord (an “order”) hit a historic low. In 2021, 7061 calls were made, but just 502 calls resulted in a property standards order. Compare that to 2018, when 5085 calls resulted in 875 orders.

Even worse, actual financial penalties to landlords have fallen, as well; 144 Part 1 (set fine) tickets were issued in 2018, but only 26 in 2021. Every year the percentage of calls to 311 that result in an order goes down; in 2021, only seven per cent of calls resulted in an order. Why are calls to the city about bad landlords increasing, while penalties by the city on bad landlords are decreasing?

ACORN members have been fighting for more funding for RentSafe to crack down on bad landlords. In our “State of RentSafe” report from 2020, based on a survey of 156 tenants, 93 per cent of respondents had at least one property standard violation in their unit, 22 per cent saw roaches every day, and nearly a third saw no point in calling the city to report a violation. This should be unacceptable to city councillors who have hailed front-line workers as heroes during COVID. These heroes are often tenants, and the city is failing to protect their health at home.

Tenants want what everyone wants: a healthy, safe and secure home. The final vote on the budget takes place on Feb. 17, and ACORN members will continue their organizing to call for a budget that puts money into the needs of our members: healthy homes, affordable housing, child care and access to the internet. And with an election in October, tenants will be watching this vote and holding councillors accountable at the ballot box.

Marcia Stone is co-chair of Weston ACORN.

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Article by Marcia Stone for Toronto.com

 

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