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OCAP rallies for affordable housing, demands an end to the sell-off of public housing units

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The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) slammed the planned sale of 371 public housing units by the City of Toronto at a rally Saturday, claiming it will displace tenants from neighbourhoods they’ve lived in for years.

In December 2008, Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) presented a 10-year Real Estate Asset Investment Strategy to its Board of Directors. Among other things, the report recommended the sale and replacement of 371 units of housing through new construction and/or the acquisition of existing rental buildings in order to maintain the current levels of rent-geared-to-income.

“All replacement would happen either on vacancy or with a long notice period to tenants,” said TCHC. “In cases of replacement, policies currently in place for relocation of tenants will apply, such as ability to access a similar unit, preservation of geared-to-income status based on continued eligibility and reasonable moving expenses.”

TCHC continued: “Currently, only one of these buildings is fully vacant due to mould and structural issues. A relocation program will be required in order to ensure all tenants remain housed with the same geared-to-income benefits as is presently the case.”

OCAP argued that the 371 units (326 apartments and 45 single-family homes) are located in sought-after neighbourhoods, primarily downtown and in the Beaches, and said “these sales and the City’s displacement of poor people through redevelopment mean that many TCHC residents are being displaced from their schools, friends and communities.”

“TCHC says that the units up for sale are in such a state of disrepair that they cannot be fixed,” said Kelly Bentley, an OCAP member and TCHC tenant. “The units that are in serious need of repair were purposely not maintained by TCHC so that they could sell the units off down the road and use their dilapidation as an excuse.”

OCAP spokesperson Levi Waldron said: “We are in the midst of an economic crisis when we know we are going to see an increase in homelessness, and the need for affordable housing in this city is already way too high. We cannot let a single unit be sold off under these conditions, let alone 371, of which 85% are in an excellent state of repair.”

Waldron contends the TCHC investment strategy is really “about moving poor people out of wealthy neighbourhoods and making money in the process.”

From 1999 to 2005, Waldron added, the City’s budget for public housing dropped $30 million a year, with no capital expenditures for new building.

In their letter of March 13, 2009, TCHC told OCAP that part of the 10-year Investment Strategy calls for the revitalization of communities “that are no longer viable through the creation of mixed-income communities with better quality housing, improved parks, schools and transit, more jobs and training for tenants and better access to shops and services.”

“What that means,” said Waldron, “is that TCHC is going to demolish a large public housing project, disperse the tenants throughout the city, sell as much of the land as possible to condo developers and then replace those units on as little area as possible.”

In the meantime, Waldron said, years of housing are lost during the demolition and reconstruction.

Upon completion, rent-geared-to-income (RGI) units and market rent units will form a mixed income neighbourhood. About 93 per cent of current tenants pay a subsidized rent. There are, however, over 70,000 people on the waiting list (with an average wait time of 10-12 years) for this type of housing.

Toronto Community Housing also has units available immediately for singles, families and seniors, who can afford to pay market rent rates.

“Who’s gonna lend us the frickin’ money,” said one protestor.

“That’s right,” said Waldron.

For OCAP, the sale of 371 public housing units is “part of the same program of clearing poor people out of wealthy neighbourhoods while moving rich people into the previously poor neighbourhoods, of closing down shelter beds in the downtown east side and the general moving out of poor people from the places where wealthy people live.”

“I have kids, I’m going to school, trying to improve,” said Amina, who’s been on the public housing waiting list for 10 years. “But I can’t pay my rent. A lot of people are in the same situation.”

Click here to see photos from the rally

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