Consultations to address affordable housing shortage
TheStar.com – Canada – Consultations to address affordable housing shortage
July 20, 2009. Laurie Monsebraaten, Social Justice reporter
Toronto waiter Anthony Clarke is a model tenant. For 15 years he has paid his rent on time, kept his College St. apartment clean and respected his neighbours.
But since 2001, his landlord has hit him with a flurry of eviction notices Clarke says are aimed at replacing him with a new tenant who will pay more rent in the trendy west-Toronto neighbourhood.
The landlord’s lawyer says his client needs the spacious two-bedroom apartment above her family’s meat store for family members.
But so far, Ontario’s landlord and tenant board and divisional court have ruled in Clarke’s favour, noting that since the apartment is owned by a numbered company, the landlord has no right to claim the unit for family use.
The landlord, however, says the apartment is not owned by a numbered company. And in January, Clarke received a fourth eviction notice, claiming family use. The case is still before the landlord and tenant board.
“It’s been pretty bad,” says Clarke, whose monthly rent is an affordable $832 plus utilities in a neighbourhood where a similar vacant apartment rents for more than twice that amount. “It’s crazy, but the more they fight to get me out, the more I try to stay. I refuse to be a victim.”
Tenant advocates say the Liberal government could save Clarke and others like him from such eviction threats by restoring rent controls on vacant units as part of their promised long-term affordable housing strategy for the province. And they will press their case with Housing Minister Jim Watson during two days of public consultations on the strategy this week beginning tomorrow in Toronto.
Ontario has lost thousands of affordable apartments since 1998, when Mike Harris’ Conservative government allowed landlords to charge market rents on vacant units, says the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario. In Toronto, the number of one-bedroom apartments with rents below $700 shrank by 85 per cent between 1997 and 2003 and the number of two-bedroom units renting for less than $800 dropped by 87 per cent, the city’s housing department says.
“Eviction notices citing landlord’s own use skyrocketed in desirable neighbourhoods such as College St. after rent controls were lifted,” says the centre’s Tracy Heffernan, who worked as a tenant lawyer in the area during the late 1990s and who has represented Clarke in court and at the tenant board.
The Liberals promised to restore rent controls when they were elected in 2003 and that commitment must be part of their affordable housing strategy to ensure more affordable units aren’t lost, she says.
Advocates also hope the strategy includes streamlined municipal planning and zoning regulations to ease the creation of new affordable housing; community supports to help vulnerable tenants stay housed; and new public and private financial tools to help build, maintain and upgrade low-cost units.
Ontario also needs a new shelter allowance to be delivered outside the welfare system to help all low-income households – whether they are working or not – with the high cost of rent, they say.
“We will never be able to build enough subsidized housing to meet the need,” said Yutaka Dirks, co-chair of the Housing Network of Ontario, a coalition of housing and tenant advocates, anti-poverty activists and non-profit housing providers pushing for a comprehensive, well-funded strategy. “So we have to find a way to address affordability in the private market.”