"Blight of homelessness" - To. Star

Paul York (stephen.york@utoronto.ca)
Thu, 25 Feb 1999 05:02:45 PST


	February 24, 1999 - Toronto Star

	GLOBAL CITY
	URBAN VILLAGE
	-------------------
	One in an occasional series
	looking at the people and forces
	shaping Greater Toronto

	Wanted: Real solutions to blight of
	homelessness

	Thousands waiting for affordable housing
	across GTA

	By David Lewis Stein
	Toronto Star Feature Writer

	On these bitter nights, stories of
	homelessness bombard the heart. But with
	Toronto's budget strained to the breaking
	point, answers to homelessness boggle the
	mind.

                  It is 5 o'clock and homeless men are
                  getting a hot supper. Daniel, a graying
                  41-year-old labourer, explains why he
                  can't make it on the $520 a month welfare
                  allows a single person:

                  "A room costs $325, maybe $350 and most
                  times there's no hotplate or refrigerator,
                  so you have to eat in restaurants and
                  you've only got $200 a month for food.
                  What happens if you want to get your
                  clothes cleaned? It costs $3 to do a load
                  at the laundromat. But how can you look
                  for a job if you don't have clean clothes?
                  You feel cut off from the world."

                  The world Daniel feels cut off from is not
                  Toronto. We are in Cornerstone, a hostel
                  on the ragged edge of downtown Oshawa.

                  The task force report - Taking
                  Responsibility For Homelessness: An Action
                  Plan For Toronto - showed that
                  homelessness is a blight on Vancouver,
                  Montreal and Calgary as well as Greater
                  Toronto. So on March 26, Toronto Mayor Mel
                  Lastman will host a national "summit" on
                  homelessness.

                  But task force chair Anne Golden keeps
                  saying homelessness is what happens at the
                  edges; the heart of the matter is
                  affordable housing.

                  That's not just a big city problem. It
                  spreads across Greater Toronto. And the
                  very federal and provincial governments
                  Lastman has invited to his summit helped
                  bring it about.

                          -------------------------

                  "People come to Oshawa because they think
                  there are jobs at General Motors," Oshawa
                  Mayor Nancy Diamond says. "And we have a
                  tradition of taking care of people here."

                  But in Durham Region, 5,100 households -
                  roughly 12,000 people - are on the waiting
                  list for housing that will demand no more
                  than 30 per cent of their income. Where
                  are they living now?

                  "We have 23,000 people on welfare and
                  those in private housing are paying an
                  average of 70 per cent of their income for
                  rent," says Ron Dancey, Durham's director
                  of family services.

                  In York Region, 1,500 households wait for
                  subsidized housing.

                  In Halton, 2,600 households are on the
                  waiting list. They will wait a long time.

                  "Nobody has built anything out here in
                  five years," says Gwen Mulloney, general
                  manager for Halton Non-Profit Housing.
                  "We are placing people who applied back
                  in 1994 and '95."

                  In Peel, 20,000 households wait for
                  subsidized housing. In Toronto, the
                  waiting list is 44,000 households -
                  roughly 100,000 people, or almost 5 per
                  cent of the city's entire population.

                  "It's a mistake to think they are all on
                  welfare," applicant manager Mary Menzies
                  says. "Almost one-third have jobs. They
                  just can't live on what they earn."

                  Federal and provincial support for new
                  housing ended in the mid-'90s. Then
                  Premier Mike Harris turned over existing
                  housing - in Greater Toronto, almost
                  110,000 units - to municipalities, along
                  with transportation and roads.

                  Harris says taxpayers can afford this
                  because he cut education taxes for
                  homeowners in half. But municipal property
                  taxes began inching up last year in York,
                  Halton, Peel and Durham. Toronto froze
                  taxes only with a $100 million loan from
                  Queen's Park and will likely need a $63
                  million loan this year.

                  And 1998 was just year one of the new era.
                  Greater Toronto must start coming up with
                  $487 million for housing alone.

                  Harris has not explained how Greater
                  Toronto politicians could build housing,
                  raise the $1 billion needed for commuter
                  transportation and also widen congested
                  roads without either cutting back services
                  or drastically raising property taxes.

                  Meanwhile, Harris pressures tenants.

                          -------------------------

                  It is almost noon in a crowded windowless
                  rent tribunal hearing room on the fifth
                  floor of a shiny Mississauga office tower.
                  Two women hold squirming babies. Only one
                  person has been evicted, a young man who
                  said he didn't get a notice because he was
                  away at his mother's funeral. And now
                  Karen Wallace is winning one.

                  Do not be comforted by her success. All it
                  shows is that although the Tenant
                  Protection Act, which went into effect
                  last summer, may not be as mean as tenant
                  advocates claim, it is certainly an act
                  only lawyers can love.

                  It comes at you like an express train.

                           ------------------------
                           It is certainly an act
                           only lawyers can love
                           ------------------------

                  Wallace, duty council for the Brampton
                  Legal Clinic, is defending two women, one
                  elderly and ailing, who live in a motel
                  attached to a hotel. They are behind in
                  rent and the landlord claims the building
                  comes under the Innkeepers Act and they
                  must leave immediately.

                  Wallace asks that all witnesses be sworn
                  in - something no one else has thought to
                  do. She draws from the women that they
                  have their own furniture, that they use a
                  separate entrance, not the hotel lobby
                  and, the clincher, she produces a letter
                  in which the landlords themselves refer to
                  their unit as an apartment.

                  Judge Murray Graham, a model of
                  fair-minded calm, rules the two women
                  can't be turfed out immediately. They come
                  under the Tenant Protection Act.

                  That, Wallace now argues, a predatory
                  smile forming on her friendly face, means
                  getting their rent actually reduced. The
                  landlord raised them $45 a month in
                  November - a jump not allowed under the
                  Tenant Protection Act.

                  Graham rules Wallace is right again and
                  the rent increase should be rolled back.
                  Talk about reversal of fortune - the
                  landlord now owes the tenants money.

                  So if you've got a lawyer or think like
                  one, you may be all right. But move fast.

                  Fall behind in your rent, by even one day,
                  and the landlord can give you notice to
                  pay up in 14 days. If you don't, he can go
                  to a rent tribunal and get a notice of
                  hearing that will be delivered to you.

                  The notice says there will be a hearing
                  and you have five "calendar days" to let
                  the tribunal know if you are going to
                  "dispute" the landlord's claim.

                  That doesn't mean you have five days to
                  mail the notice in. You have to get it
                  physically to the tribunal within five
                  days.

                           ------------------------
                           `I've seen a tenant
                           evicted for being just
                           $12.10 behind'
                           ------------------------

                  If you mail it and it arrives even a day
                  late, you could be in trouble. Or if you
                  say: "What is there to `dispute?' I'm
                  behind and I'll just go to the hearing and
                  explain why," you could be a big loser.

                  If you don't inform the tribunal in
                  writing five days after a notice of
                  hearing that you are going to "dispute,"
                  tribunal officials can review your file -
                  in effect, what the landlord claims
                  against you - and issue an eviction order.

                  You can, of course, appeal to have this
                  set aside. "I've seen some set aside
                  hearings where the tenant is ready to pay
                  and the landlord won't accept it,"
                  Wallace says.

                  If landlords can get the tenants out, the
                  apartment is freed from rent control.

                  Government spokespersons say there has
                  been no significant increase in evictions
                  under the new act.

                  But David Craig, head of the Brampton
                  Legal Clinic, says Peel Region evictions
                  increased by 23 per cent in 1998.

                  In Toronto, Howard Tessler, director of
                  the Federation of Metro Tenants, says,
                  "The government hasn't given me their
                  statistics, but I've seen a tenant evicted
                  for being just $12.10 behind."

                          -------------------------

                  "The TPA (Tenant Protection Act) is a
                  very positive initiative from the
                  perspective of new rental investment. . .
                  ."

                  That's from a report, not yet released,
                  which economist Greg Lampert did for the
                  province. But "Why has no one built to
                  date?" Lampert's report asks sadly.

                  Harris has done things developers wanted -
                  loosened rent control, lowered apartment
                  property taxes - but many still fear
                  government interference.

                  What would really turn them on, Lampert
                  says - and the Golden report picks up this
                  theme - is government support.

                  "Historically, the government played a
                  role in the construction of low-end rental
                  housing right from the very beginning,"
                  says University of Toronto Housing
                  Professor David Hulchanski.

                  His charts show Ottawa financed almost
                  800,000 units of subsidized housing and
                  supported low rent market housing
                  beginning in 1945. The Brian Mulroney
                  government started winding down support
                  for new housing in the mid-'80s and had
                  pretty well ended it by 1993.

                  Ontario soldiered on alone, financing
                  51,000 housing units from 1985 to 1995.

                          -------------------------

                  "We will end the public housing
                  boondoggle that profits only the large
                  property developers and return to a
                  shelter subsidy program for all Ontarians
                  who need help. . ." - Mike Harris's
                  Common Sense Revolution.

                  Harris cancelled 390 non-profit housing
                  projects that would have created 17,000
                  new units.

                  "We went from 100 miles an hour to zero
                  overnight," says Steve Kaiser, president
                  of the Urban Development Institute and
                  voice of the development industry.

                  Harris then looked into shelter
                  allowances. Golden's task force reminded
                  the world of his promise and said shelter
                  allowances would cost $178 million.

                  Try $1 billion, government experts say.

                  "Golden's model just gave partial
                  coverage and only to the working poor,"
                  says David Priebe, a senior policy adviser
                  in the housing ministry.

                  "Our model covered the gap between what
                  people could afford and market rent for
                  everybody paying more than 30 per cent of
                  their income. It came to $1 billion."

                  Harris tiptoed away from universal shelter
                  allowances and has shown no interest in
                  Golden's proposal.

                          -------------------------

                  "The housing crisis is growing at an
                  alarming rate and the government sits
                  there and does nothing." That was Paul
                  Martin in Opposition, introducing the 1990
                  report of the Liberal Caucus Task Force On
                  Housing.

                  In 1993, Martin became finance minister
                  and did nothing to start up housing
                  programs the Tories had cancelled - not
                  even with this month's spend-again budget.

                           ------------------------
                           Toronto's share might
                           create 75 new places
                           ------------------------

                  At the end of 1998, federal Housing
                  Minister Alfonso Gagliano announced with
                  great fanfare that his government was
                  pumping $50 million into a home renovation
                  program and this would help the homeless.
                  Toronto officials say that with a little
                  luck, Toronto's share of the federal money
                  - some $6.5 million - might create 75 new
                  places for needy people.

                          -------------------------

                  So what is to be done?

                  Homelessness has brought inspiring
                  displays of idealism.

                  John Andras, a young, passionate
                  investment counsellor, started Project
                  Warmth three years ago.

                  This year he expects to hand out more than
                  30,000 sleeping bags to the homeless and
                  10,000 people have been involved in
                  collecting them.

                  But ending homelessness needs more than
                  compassion.

                  It requires even more than gestures from
                  provincial and federal politicians coming
                  to Lastman's summit: It means a change in
                  thinking.

                  "In the '60s and '70s, when we had
                  effective housing programs, they were
                  something we were doing for ourselves, for
                  the good of Canada," the U of T's
                  Hulchanski says.

                  "Now social housing is something we only
                  do for `them.' And people ask, `How much
                  can we afford to do for them?' "

                  When she was promoting the Greater Toronto
                  Task Force, which she also chaired, Golden
                  used to say, "The status quo is not an
                  option." She could say that now about
                  housing.

                  "When people are in poor housing, their
                  health suffers," says Peel Housing
                  Commissioner Keith Ward. "When children
                  are in poor housing, their education
                  suffers. What we are creating here is a
                  nightmare."