By Joan Gauthier
A lot of people and agencies in the Belleville area are saying that we are experiencing a housing crisis. What does that mean? Looking at ads for apartments it seems to me that it is not a crisis for landlords. The prices for even a small place are exorbitant. What this crisis means is simply that there are not enough places that have a reasonable rent attached to them. This has been the long term crisis, little affordable housing and few people willing to take the initiative to build it.
Changing the housing situation from being a crisis into a critical and desperate one was the unexpected fire and the sudden condemnation of a building, leaving more than 50 people homeless, through no fault of their own. The condemned building housed people who otherwise had a difficult time finding safe, affordable housing; or were difficult to house. It is now over 6 months later and I continue to see some of the displaced people still struggling to find safe affordable housing, often times resulting in them continuing to live in temporary or transition homes. As a city we have left many of our vulnerable citizens bereft of suitable housing and have not come up with a viable solution.
Some of out community based organizations have raced to meet the sudden and unexpected explosion of housing needs. Agencies, like CMHA, are being pushed to their capacity to meet the needs. We have a transitional housing program yet are finding that people are staying for a year and in that year they cannot find affordable housing. The type of people seeking our help has changed as well. We now need to be a more supportive type of housing, cooperating with the CCAC and having PSW’s come into the houses and take care of some of their clients while living in transitional housing. This is not the best set up for a tenant as they live in a temporary, boarding house situation. Our agency has had to be creative with how we house people. We have moved people within the agency and they too have been stretched to the limit and more to accommodate people in need. Some people have even been moved into places that agencies have known were going to be closed as there are no other options available to our clientele. We are not staffed 24/7. That makes it difficult for us to accept people who need that type of housing. We are not equipped to house people who cannot live independently, whether that means they have the beginning states of Alzheimer’s, cannot cook or clean for themselves are unable to bathe, yet this is the people being forgotten and shoved into corners because after all, if they cannot be seen what does it matter if a boarding house is closed, a seniors residence burned, a slum landlord rents out rooms at 600 hundred or more dollars per month? We can’t see them, so they must not exist, or SOME agencies have stepped into the gap. We cannot see, so things are good.
A number of landlords will post ads on Kijiji and receive a plethora of calls. Some landlords do not return calls to let people know the place has been rented already, so again our clientele are left out in the cold waiting for a call that does not come. It is not only people on assistance who are fighting for the right for a place to live but working people are being left out in the cold as well. It is understandable why a landlord would not want to include utilities in the cost of an apartment, but is it reasonable to ask for $850.00 or more for a one bedroom plus utilities?
It frustrates and angers me on many different levels that we have a housing crisis. What is our responsibility as a community and as a city to assist in providing housing to those in need and what is the role we play in building a safer more secure community for ALL of our citizens?