When I tell people my home was infested by cockroaches, I get a variety of reactions. Some people shrug their shoulders and tell me that is a common problem in Toronto and other people shiver in disgust. Anyone who understands the difference between one or two cockroaches and a full-blown infestation immediately gives me a hug and asks what I need. Just in case you don’t know, let me explain.
The word “infest” means “to invade in large number, causing damage or hardship.” To me, it means seeing over one hundred cockroaches climb into every one of my things while I try to get what remains out of the house. It means losing a substantial portion of the things I worked hard for and loved. It means war between man and beast — and let me tell you the cockroach always survives.
The apartment in question is in Parkdale on Spencer Avenue. Parkdale is a complicated neighbourhood, with a population ranging from wealthy families in turn-of-the-century homes to low-income people surviving in dilapidated apartment buildings. It is known as a low-income neighbourhood with a plethora of problems. One of the main issues is affordable housing.
The affordable housing waitlist in Toronto stands at 90,000 households, despite the failed attempt at building 10,000 affordable homes per year, originally introduced in the Housing Opportunities Toronto Action Plan 2010-2020. As for affordable housing that does exist, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation has a $2.6 billion backlog in repairs. A lot of other housing is rent-controlled, which this leaves tenants in a vulnerable position if they have a bullish landlord who wants them out to raise the rent.
The housing situation in Toronto is in crisis and what is the result? Children, adults and seniors living in pest-infested housing, myself included.
City Councillor Gord Perks of Ward 14 Parkdale-High Park sees the struggles within his ward.“Every tenant is being ignored. Their voices have not been heard at Queen’s Park,” Perks says. “Oftentimes, people with rental control are being muscled out of their units. The landlords aren’t happy about people who are rent controlled of course. They are trying to get above guidelines by allowing cockroaches to persist, and not doing repairs properly so people leave. Then they can put a fresh coat of paint on and jack up the rent.”
Large apartment building companies own many of the buildings in the area and it is well-known that landlords hold much power in Toronto. This leaves tenants in a vulnerable and disempowered position to demand better living conditions in these buildings. Children live in poverty-stricken housing barely five kilometers from Queen’s Park and City Hall.
Why is it that the affordable housing crisis hasn’t been solved in Toronto?
“None of the levels of government have fixed that problem. The prime minister, premier, and mayor think they can solve the problem without collecting more taxes from the population,” Cheri Dinovo, MPP for Parkdale-High Park says. “For example, we have a significant stock of Toronto community housing units in Parkdale. The CEO of community housing has said that he does not have enough money to maintain standards.”
The problem comes down to a lack of funding. It also is the result of the three levels of government passing the affordable housing agenda in Toronto back and forth like a hot potato nobody wants. Many solutions have been presented including Section 37, the Open Door program, Inclusionary zoning (IZ), Landlord Licensing, and rent control. None of these have yet solved the housing crisis.
Part of the reason for the lack of success of any affordable housing program is due to squabbling between different levels of government. The provincial government reintroduced their affordable housing bill Wednesday, including inclusionary zoning that would mandate a percentage of affordable housing in all new condo developments. The City of Toronto adamantly rejects inclusionary zoning in place of Section 37, mandating developers provide mandatory funding for community projects. But, a provincial law states it cannot be used in conjunction with IZ.
In truth, all of these options should be adopted to help obtain affordable housing as quickly as possible. “There is a whole host of tools we should be dealing with to help the housing crisis-because that is what it is- and we are not,” Perks says. “There is a middle line that has to be met. Inclusionary zoning is absolutely essential. It is the only tool that is working in municipalities, but they need to be able to invoke section 37 to build infrastructure. Otherwise, there is a danger that the section 37 will creep into funding for new affordable housing.” The provincial government and Toronto city council need to come to an agreement and find middle ground for both laws. Otherwise, people will continue to live in unacceptable conditions.
When I walk down the street in Parkdale, I don’t see people that deserve to live in cockroach-infested homes. I see a diverse and thriving population of families, and a community from far and wide who have come together to live in a neighbourhood overflowing with culture. I see children who deserve to have a clean home where they don’t get respiratory illness in the winter or feel like they can’t have friends over because their apartment building is in such a state of disrepair.
When landlords try to take advantage of people who can’t afford high-end housing, I wish they could see these are real people, not so different from their own mother or brother. I wish the City Council and the provincial government could stop fighting and see that these are the lives of families that are being played with. We need change now. I can only hope that the housing waitlist will disappear and poverty-stricken living conditions will become a thing of the past.