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As we approach National Housing Day on November 22nd, the shelter and housing crisis in our City is unlike anything we have ever seen before.
COVID-19 has amplified this crisis as more people lose income and struggle to survive. The provincial and municipal governments refuse to institute a moratorium on evictions, paving the way for new waves of evictions. Shelters are full, and remain sites of fear for a perfect storm for COVID transmission as conditions do not allow for distancing or enough personal space. Encampments have grown in every park across the city, and communities of people in tents are staring down the approaching cold weather with no real alternatives. All levels of government have failed miserably to house people. We see drops in the bucket, tiny Bandaids on a giant wound. The City of Toronto recently opened up the Better Living Centre as a respite site, complete with dystopian cell-like glass cubes – no privacy, no respect for the dignity of poor people in our city, no offer of one person one room, nor enough beds for everyone who needs them right now.
Overdose deaths have nearly doubled since last year. Doubled. We are seeing the collision of the housing/shelter crisis with an overdose crisis and the results are catastrophic. Communities are losing people – loved ones, friends – at a shocking and horrific rate. This grief and trauma cannot be measured.
We need housing and we need it now. Not trickled down half measures, but bold, determined, full access – HOUSING. Immediately.
In the spring we fought for access to hotels and housing as an alternative to overcrowded shelters. We won some spaces in hotels, but that has proved to be, once again, a drop in the bucket, and with a dangerous lack of adequate harm reduction supports on-site. A few weeks ago we marched again on 214-230 Sherbourne, an empty property and abandoned building in the middle of one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods, to demand it be expropriated and immediately converted to housing, which the city had promised to do.
As we head into another winter. As COVID-19 cases rise dramatically, it feels like entire communities are left on deflating lifeboats. Who will get a chance to survive?
Today, we renew our support for the 6 Demands for Immediate Action created by Encampment Support Network:
Many people across Toronto and beyond are organizing and resisting – from supporting the encampments to blocking evictions – poor and working-class people who are defending themselves, supporting each other, and organizing.
In the same way, there can be no half-measures from the government, there can be no half-measures in our organizing as we fight for what poor and working-class people need to survive in this critical moment. If you are not already in the struggle – join it. Join a neighbourhood anti-eviction committee with Parkdale Organize or People’s Defence, join the Encampment Support Network, join Jane Finch Action Against Poverty, join OCAP, or fight where you are. Let’s work together, let’s organize, let’s win.
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
November 22, 2020
Wednesday, July 22 at 11 am | Peter St. Referral Centre | 129 Peter St. (at Richmond)
The state of homelessness continues to grow and reach bigger crisis levels in the City of Toronto.
With the added problem of COVID, the situation is rapidly deteriorating. The shelter system capacity has been cut in half and has not been replaced adequately by hotels or housing. Including all of the backup respite sites, there has still been a loss of over 500 spaces. The Peter St. referral centre remains closed and there is nowhere to refer people to for safe space as the shelters are both full and hazardous to people’s health. The only housing being built in the City remains unaffordable and inaccessible, while the Province is moving to make thousands more homeless through Bill 184 and by lifting the moratorium on evictions.
For the well over a thousand people already sleeping on the streets and in the parks there is no where else to go. Still they face threat of displacement and criminalization by the City. Instead of providing basic needs for people to live like housing, the City continues to invest over $1.1 billion a year into racist, violent policing.
Call out the City and demand action to confront this crisis we are facing.
We demand the City:
John Clarke – Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
Desmond Cole – Activist, Journalist, Author
Zoe Dodd – Toronto Overdose Prevention Society
Greg Cook – Shelter Housing Justice Network and Outreach Worker at Sanctuary
ALSO- Speaker from Parkdale Organize
Bus information: The rally location is accessible by the TTC, but it’s nice to get there together. We have two buses and two pick up locations – one outside St. George station (Bedford exit) and another at Allan Gardens (Sherbourne/Carlton). If these are on-route for you, then please sign up here and come with us. If not, we’ll see you there.
Doug Ford is a corrupt multi-millionaire whose party’s record is one of destroying Ontario’s public services, increasing poverty, and intensifying racism and bigotry. A Ford government promises corporate welfare and tax-breaks for the rich, and service cuts for the rest of us who depend on public hospitals, education, roads, transit, income support and decent jobs.
We believe the only way for the struggling people of this province to win is to build determined social movements capable of taking on whoever gets in power. Ford would take the ongoing attack on poor and working class people to a new level, and so a resistance movement powerful enough to confront and defeat him must be built.
Support for Ford is slipping but a hard-right government led by the Conservatives remains a serious possibility. So join us on June 2 to demonstrate opposition to Ford’s agenda and to give him a preview of the resistance that awaits him should he become Premiere of Ontario. #FightToWin.
A series of adjacent vacant properties (214-230 Sherbourne) are up for sale just steps from the south-west intersection of Dundas and Sherbourne. The owners want to sell the property to condo developers. We’re calling on the City to purchase the property, and if necessary, to expropriate it for building social housing.
Dundas and Sherbourne needs housing to be sure, but it needs housing that poor people can afford. The neighbourhood won’t get that housing with private development. Zoning requirements do require private developers to build at least 10% “affordable” housing, but this offers little cause for comfort. Outside of the fact that the 10% requirement is woefully inadequate and allows the developer to build up to 90% market-rate housing (most likely for ownership), the City’s definition of affordability is a cruel joke. The City defines affordable housing as “at or below the average City of Toronto rent.”
The average market rent in Toronto is over $1000 for a bachelor, over $1200 for a one-bedroom, and over $1400 for a two-bedroom apartment. Single people on social assistance receive a maximum of $721 or $1150, depending on whether they’re on Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program. Even people earning the new minimum wage, a 21% bump over last year, must spend over 60% of their income on rent to secure a one-bedroom apartment. With a sizable plot of land up for sale just steps from Dundas and Sherbourne, the threat of homes for the wealthy being built in a neighbourhood overwhelming populated by the poor is very real.
Based on work we’ve done thus far, a motion to get the City staff to look into purchasing or expropriating the plot of land will go to City council on Tuesday, March 27. While a positive vote will help, turning back the tide of encroaching gentrification will take a fight. Thankfully, this neighbourhood has a long history of resistance. Join us and let’s fight to win social housing at Dundas and Sherbourne.
Update, March 27, 2018: The motion referenced above passed, which means staff at the Affordable Housing Office now have the mandate to pursue the purchase of the property. This does not, however, mean the property will be purchased by the City. A report will now be produced at the Affordable Housing Committee meeting on June 25 which will provide further insight into whether the City will pursue the purchase. We will post more information as it becomes available.
Update: June 26, 2018: The owners of 214-230 Sherbourne took the properties off the market. The owners seem to prefer to sell to developers willing to pay more than the already inflated market price. The affordable housing office has been directed to develop a general “affordable housing real estate acquisition/ expropriation strategy,” but they are choosing to not pursue the expropriation of 214-230 Sherbourne at this time. The motion does mention that if the properties were to be listed again before the end of the year, the affordable housing has the authority to put in a “conditional offer” to purchase the properties. But a conditional offer that’s contingent on council approval, which could take months, is likely not going to enough to stall the purchase of the properties. In the midst of a deadly housing crisis, there is no good reason to not proceed with expropriating these properties now.
For a brief history of the history of gentrification and resistance in the neighbourhood, see below:
A Brief History of Dundas and Sherbourne: Gentrificaion and Resistance
Downtown East Toronto, one of Toronto’s oldest working class neighbourhood, is being threatened by gentrification. This gentrification, which began in the mid 1960’s, has intensified over the last fifteen years. Working class people and the unemployed, who have been welcomed in Downtown East Toronto since the mid 1850’s, are now being displaced by large developers speculating and buying up property in the neighbourhood. Thousands of rooming houses, which have served as cheap housing for the poor, have disappeared from here.
The corner of Dundas and Shebourne remains one of the most important part of our neighbourhood. All Saints Anglican Church, which has served as a community centre since 1970, sits on the south-east corner. However, the valuable land located in and around Dundas and Sherbourne area is now being targeted by speculators and developers who are hoping to cash in. A property located on Sherbourne St. just south of Dundas Street East, just across from All Saints Chruch, is now being offered for sale to developers for a potential 23-storey condo development. On the site sits a large abandoned Victorian House, which had operated as a rooming house since 1914, and which has now sat empty for more than a decade. Two other houses adjacent to 230 Sherbourne, which also operated has rooming houses for decades, were demolished several years ago by the owners, and now only an empty lot remains.
The poor have a long history of fighting for housing at Dundas and Sherbourne area. In 1970’s the City of Toronto was facing a crisis as more and more rooming houses were disappearing. The city eventually bought up more than a dozen rooming houses on Sherbourne St., just north of Dundas Street East, which continue to operate today. More than forty rooming houses were also saved, and bought by the city, in the late 1970’s, after poor people fought back against speculators buying up rooming houses during the St. Jamestown redevelopment. In the mid 1980’s, after Drina Joubert was found frozen to death at the back of a rooming house across the street from All Saints Anglican Church, a large coalition was formed calling on the Ontario government to build social housing for single adults. This battle resulted in the subsequent building of 3,000 units of social housing for single adults, including 61 units at Dundas and Sherbourne, behind All Saints Church.
On a nightly basis more than 100 people are sleeping on mats at All Saints Anglican Church, one of seven respite sites funded by the city this winter. A few blocks west of Dundas and Sherbourne, on George St., another respite centre, 100 people are also being sheltered in an old youth detention owned by the province, every night. As the city’s shelter and housing crisis continues to intensify we cannot allow developers to displace the poor and the unemployed, who had always been welcomed in Downtown East. In order to continue to ensure that this community keeps its working class identity we must protect it.
Three things to keep in mind as you get ready to join us at the National Housing Day of Action:
1. Recent media reports have indicated that the National Housing Strategy may contain plans to build 100,000 “affordable” units over 10 years. But affordability has been conveniently redefined to mean at or just below average market rent, which isn’t affordable to anyone who is low-income and increasingly, even middle income.
2. Media reports also suggest the creation of a rental supplement, which has two problems. First, it puts money in the pockets of private landlords in an inflated rental market instead of ensuring low-income people have access to secure and stable housing that they can afford. Second, this program isn’t expected to roll out for another 2-3 years, keeping it consistent with the trend of promising solutions in the future while giving up nothing now.
3. Justin Trudeau will be in town today to unveil the National Housing Strategy this afternoon. The location chosen for the announcement – the Lawrence Heights Redevelopment Project, a site where 1200 social housing units are being replaced by private developers for the price of allowing them to build over 4000 for-profit units and retail space within the same development – speaks volumes for the real beneficiaries of the National Housing Strategy.
See you @ Noon at Allan Gardens.
Rally & March | Part of nation-wide actions demanding public housing
Wednesday, November 22 | 12 Noon | Allan Gardens (Sherbourne/Carlton)
[Lunch Provided | Access Van on-site | ASL-English Interpretation]
Facebook Event | Simultaneous Actions: Montreal, Quebec City, Sherbrooke, London, Edmonton, Vancouver & others
The Liberal record on housing is a treacherous one. As public housing in our city literally crumbles to the ground, the Liberals are getting ready to announce their ‘National Housing Strategy’ on November 22. But the money has already been committed and it gives us a great big nothing.
Consider this: By 2019 – the end of their electoral term – the Trudeau Liberals will have spent less than 3% of the $11 billion they promised for affordable housing, allocating a big $0 to renewing federal, provincial and territorial partnerships in housing and increasing social housing by a meaningless 0.2%. Even if they are reelected, their current plan has them spending just a third of that money by 2022, making the whole spending plan unjustifiably back-loaded and reliant on them being re-elected a third time.
The motive is clear – the Liberals hope to gain favour through deception. They’re promising help in the ever elusive future while holding us hostage now as we lay besieged by a housing crisis they created.
Social housing has been on a downward spiral since the Chrétien Liberals eliminated new housing funding and downloaded the responsibility to the provinces 21 years ago. Vacancy rates in social housing now sit at zero and wait-lists in Toronto and other cities have grown so large that people on average have to wait for over a decade for a unit to become available. Meanwhile, even as most people’s real incomes drop, speculation in the private housing market has elevated rents to absurd heights. The combination of the two factors, coupled with poor provincial rent control, has sent poverty and homelessness rates soaring.
We all deserve affordable public housing and we must fight to win it. So on November 22, we’ll be joining with groups across the country to demand that the Trudeau Liberals:
1. Spend 100% of the $11.2 billion announced in the March 2017 budget within the next two years to respond to the crisis of social housing plaguing the country.
2. Renew federal subsidies to low-income tenants in existing social housing (co-op, nonprofit and public).
3. Build new social housing units with rent-geared-to income subsidies that are affordable to people living on social assistance and old age pension.
4. Eliminate homelessness and prioritize needs of those in precarious housing situations, especially marginalized groups including on and off-reserve Indigenous communities, recent immigrants, racialized communities, lone parent families and single seniors, women fleeing violence, disabled people, youth, people on social assistance, and the working poor.
Endorsed by: CUPE-Ontario, Toronto Drop-In Network, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Advocacy Centre for Tenants-Ontario, Right To Housing Coalition, Tenants for Social Housing, Older Women’s Network, Toronto Raging Grannies, Communist Party of Canada (Ontario), Council of Canadians, Housing Action Now!, Front d’Action Populaire En Réaménagement Urbain, Réseau SOLIDARITÉ Itinérance du Québec, Carnegie Community Action Project, Vancouver Tenants Union, DTES SRO Collaborative.
Speakers: Beric German, Gaetan Heroux & Yogi Acharya
Beric is a long-time anti-poverty activist, a member of OCAP and, previously, the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee.
Gaetan has been organizing against poverty and homelessness for nearly three decades and is the author of Toronto’s Poor: A Rebellious History.
Yogi is an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.
Join us as we discuss these and other important questions that will help us understand the current housing crisis and talk about the upcoming National Housing Day of Action.
The monthly Speakers Series is where we discuss issues critical to the success of poor people’s movements. It’s where we build our capacity to fight to win.