POVERTY MATTERS: Poor housing leads to poor health

The following blog post was first published as an article in InQuinte on March 7, 2018. Please find the original article here.

Poor housing leads to poor health

What do you do if you rent an apartment that is unsafe, unhealthy or unsuitable? What if your moldy basement apartment is making you sick, or exacerbating an existing illness? What are your choices?

You could have the situation fixed by getting your landlord to remove the mold, or you could move. You and your family want to move? What if you live in a community that lacks affordable housing? What if you can’t afford housing? You wait, and while you wait, your health deteriorates.

For John, that wait was almost a year. This is John’s story, as he describes his struggle to find healthy, suitable housing in the Hastings- Prince Edward area.

“(It was) a basement apartment and it was mold all through it and I could smell it and I complained to the landlord a few times. He wouldn’t do nothing about it and now my CODP got worse because of it, and it’s, a chronic lung disease, and it’s, it’s pretty rough, it’s what’s making my voice the way it’s going. Some days I can’t even talk from it…”

While it is no surprise that John needed to move to improve his pulmonary health, his housing situation also had impact on his ability to connect with family.

“It’s bad, but I got moved out of there, finally, ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) helped me get a place, so, it’s better than where I was, it’s smaller, but at least I’m not inhaling mold. Yeah, it’s pretty rough, but I couldn’t have my grandkids over for a night and now I have them over to visit and stuff.”

John explained the long, complicated process of moving from his apartment, a process that required legal action.

“It took me almost a year. I was on the waiting list for low-income housing, and I’m still on the list. I had to go to legal services (Community Advocacy & Legal Centre), and they’re the ones who finally helped me get out of the basement.

“Well, yeah, it’s so bad when you have to go through legal issues to get out of an apartment. It’s kind of late but at least I’m out of there now.”

Having a low or fixed-income allows fewer housing choices. While there are many buildings and homes in excellent condition, not all are.  Often “affordable” also means “lacking in repairs”.

In some cases, the rental may be infested with pests, moisture, or mold and may fluctuate in temperature due to inadequate heating, cooling, insufficient insulation and inferior doors and windows.

The result is high utility costs and poorer health outcomes, including the exacerbation of illnesses such as COPD, allergies, asthma, rash and infection.  These things increase levels of stress and have mental and physical impact on an individual.

Tenants like John often try to get their landlord to fix things voluntarily, with little luck.  John could have involved the local property standards by law enforcement and public health to try to get repairs ordered.

A tenant in John’s situation may have to go to the Landlord and Tenant Board to try to get the board to order repairs.  Going to the Landlord and Tenant Board is litigation with the landlord, and is often difficult and time consuming.

If a landlord does not fix things voluntarily, many tenants choose to move out.  The next tenant moves in and inherits the same disrepair problems.

Tenants can learn about their legal rights at Steps to Justice.

65 Station St.
Belleville, ON K8N 2S6