Healthy Homes - Habitation saine

 
 
Every person deserves affordable, livable housing. In many low income neighbourhoods, tenants live with mold, pests, broken elevators, and other challenges because landlords will not do the repairs needed. ACORN Canada members fight for landlord licensing, building inspections, and stronger enforcement of maintenance rules and by-laws.
 
See our Healthy Homes demands here.
 

Eye Weekly: Inconvenient vote

August 18th, 2010 by Chris Bilton - Eye Weekly

How do you get the half of Torontonians who don’t own property to actually vote?

There are over 250 candidates running for either mayoral or councillor positions in the municipal election, and yet we only really hear about a handful of prominent players (and far too much about Rob Ford). But this disproportionate coverage seems even more out of whack considering how little attention is paid to the upcoming election’s largest pool of players: the nearly 1.5 million voters.

In particular, tenants — and especially tenants in low-income housing — tend to get overlooked during election campaigns. Some tenants have even gone without having a reasonable place to cast their vote. This problem is more or less systemic, rooted in the fact that tenants are, by the very fact of their tenancy, one step removed from the political process — homeowners have a direct interest in voting during a municipal election since whomever wins will be determining financial realities like property taxes and utilities. Tenants, on the other hand, pay these same fees through a middleman: their landlord. That tenants have a disturbingly lower voter turnout than the rest of the city is almost secondary to the idea that they don’t really get a fair chance to vote.

But since approximately half of potential Toronto voters are tenants, the large problem is relatively simple to target. In the 2010 election, the city hopes to have 647 polling stations serving high-rise buildings (about 43 per cent of the total number of stations), some inside the buildings they serve and none more than 800 feet from them. The total number of stations, however, is actually down from previous years, due to a new accessibility requirement for voting locations (one that’s meant to eliminate barriers like stairs at entrances, etc.). Some groups think we need to do better.

Late last month, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Canada (ACORN Canada) was at City Hall calling for more polling stations in high-rise apartment buildings, citing Ontario voting regulations that state that any building with more than 100 units can have its own polling station. This is residual outrage from February’s provincial by-election, during which there were only three polling stations among the 18 buildings of St. James Town (serving around 10,000 potential voters). Combined with the nagging feeling of neglect that plagues low-income tenants during the municipal election season, this recent example of unfairness perfectly underlines ACORN’s year-old Tenants Vote 2010 campaign, which is raising awareness not only about how important it is for tenants to vote, but how much power a group comprised of half the city’s voters can actually wield.

Of course, the provincial regulation doesn’t apply to municipal elections. Instead, the similarly worded Toronto rulebook says that landlords must provide the space if the city clerk wants to put a polling station in their building. So why doesn’t the city clerk request polling stations in more high-rise buildings?

ACORN member Natalie Hundt, says that the elections office has a goal of adding more polling stations, but can’t do it right now, though they are not forthcoming with the information about what the current barriers are. “They said the funding was not available, but that they wouldn’t be able to share the information about why not — not until after the 2010 election,” she explains.

According to Janet Andrews at Elections Toronto, it’s not quite that simple. Since we are only about two months away from the election, even if they wanted to add more polling stations, there is no way to get more tabulation machines in time. What the department, and especially its newish outreach unit, has been doing instead is focusing on trying to make the election and information about the election more accessible. Over the past year, they, like ACORN, have been raising awareness in low-income areas: partnering with Toronto Community Housing to  go out and actively engage residents in the hows and whys of voting. They’ve made voter registration forms available in buildings and trained staff to help people fill and file them.

This grassroots effort to get tenants registered is essentially the first step forward after the two steps back in 1999, when door-to-door voter registration was scrapped and the whole process was handed off to the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation. They’ve been good at keeping homeowners on the voting list (they deal directly with anyone who buys a home), but terrible at ensuring tenants get the same attention. This is, of course, a painfully familiar tale of a big government organization taking over, whose ineffectiveness forces the city to create a new mini-organization to pick up their slack. At least the elections office is moving in the right direction, even partnering with ACORN to focus on more improvements for the 2014 election.

Supposing that the city is successful in encouraging more people to get involved in this municipal election and ensuring that they have a place to do so, it will only be a matter of time before voters — even tenant voters — will begin to reclaim the attention they deserve.

Original article at: http://www.eyeweekly.com/city/municipal%20affairs%20desk/article/99640--...

Toronto Sun: Tenant issues need voice, rally told

August 12th, 2010 by Kevin Connor - Toronto Sun

Tenants’ issues must be front and centre in the next municipal election, a rally heard on Thursday.

“We are having this action to encourage tenants to vote and we have invited mayoral candidates and council candidates to hear their views,” said ACORN’S Edward Lantz, adding the organization has three main issues for the October vote.

First, the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now wants changes made to the city’s licence standards department.

“These people audit highrise buildings. To date, there are 6,000 highrises in the city and 80% are in disrepair. Over the last two years the inspectors were only in 300 buildings and that is because there are only 13 inspectors. It is going to be a long time to get up to code,” Lantz said.

“In the units with the real problems we need to add more inspectors. Slum lords in Toronto must be regulated.”

ACORN also wants landlords to pay a tenant protection fee to fund the expansion of the inspection program.

“It wouldn’t cost the city a cent,” Lantz said.

Inside Toronto: Smitherman vows 'all-out war' against bedbugs

August 13th, 2010 by Mike Adler - Inside Toronto

George Smitherman says as Toronto's mayor he will "fight the all-out war" that must be waged against bedbugs.

"And some of that will be tough love too, because in some of these buildings our neighbours won't let us in to do what's necessary," said Smitherman, who added the city hasn't done enough to remove the blood-sucking insects in private or public housing.

Other mayoral candidates and hopefuls for council or school board seats gave their views on tenant issues to dozens of activists at an outdoor rally this week.

Organizers from ACORN - the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now - said they are determined to raise the city's low tenant voter turnout this fall and let renters know which candidates share their views.

"We want to let every candidate in the city know that we refuse to be ignored," added Edward Lantz, organizer of the group's St. Jamestown chapter.

ACORN, which last month lobbied to get more polling stations in Toronto apartments, said it sent members into nearby highrises to talk to residents during the Thursday afternoon event on a lawn behind Wellesley Community Centre.

 

Put polling stations in high rise buildings

July 15th - Toronto ACORN members are holding an action at city hall to draw attention to the need for greater accessibility to polling locations in high rise buildings in the upcoming municipal election. 

We are calling on election officials to utilize their power under Section 13.4 of the Ontario Elections Act and place polling stations in all buildings containing 100 or more units where accessible space is available.

Providing increased accessibility in large buildings by providing polling stations is another tool election officials have to help address the endemic low voter turnout in these polls. 

ACORN member Cathy Birch who uses a scooter expresses her reliance on a polling station in her building, saying:

“I live in a building with 300 units and if there wasn’t a polling station I just wouldn’t vote.  There are too many places that are not accessible.  To get in and out of a place that has stairs is impossible, and that essentially takes away my ability to vote.”

ACORN member and St. Jamestown resident Edward Lantz comments:

“They just had a by-election in my riding.  My building has over 400 units and didn’t have it’s own polling station, none of the buildings here did and we have 30,000 people living here.  A lot of people didn’t even know there was an election.”

This event is part of Toronto ACORN’s “Tenants Vote 2010” campaign.  This campaign is working to increase the tenant voter participation rates in areas with high concentrations of low income renters in the upcoming municipal election.

Toronto ACORN win on polling stations

July 25th - Members of Toronto ACORN met with the director of elections for the City of Toronto last week over concerns about the accessibility of polling places in low income neighbourhoods in Toronto.

At the meeting he committed to dramatically increasing the number of high rise building that would have their own polling stations.  The City now hopes to have polling stations in 647 of the high rise buildings with more than 100 units, and that no polling place should be more than 800 feet from a high rise.

This meeting followed an action at City Hall in early July where tenants voiced their concern the City wasn’t doing enough to ensure that high rise tenants would have the same level of access to polling places that are found in many condo towers.

Statement on National Day of Action for Affordable Housing

July 8th, ACORN Canada members are coming together today for a National Day of Action to call on the Harper Conservatives to support private members Bill C-304 for a national housing strategy.

Currently the Bill has support from both the Liberals and the NDP.

ACORN Canada members will be holding rallies, press events, and petitioning in Metro Vancouver, Hamilton, Toronto and Ottawa.

Miloon Kothari, the United Nations special rapporteur on adequate housing, came to Canada in 2007 and recommended that Canada adopt a comprehensive and coordinated national housing policy based on indivisibility of human rights and the protection of the most vulnerable.

In June 9 2009 the federal government accepted the UN recommendations on housing, and stated:

"Canada acknowledges that there are challenges and the Government of Canada commits to continuing to explore ways to enhance efforts to address poverty and housing issues, in collaboration with provinces and territories."

It's time to make good on these commitments.

Bill C-304 would require the federal government to consult with the Provinces and Territories to develop a National Housing Plan that would "ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians".

It's time for a national housing strategy

When Parliament recessed earlier this month Bill C-304 for a National Affordable Housing Strategy had made impressive progress, having passed second reading, but still wasn't law.  The Bill would require the government to consult with the provinces and establish a national housing program. 

ACORN Canada members across the country are excited by this progress but frustrated by the delays and Parliamentary gridlock preventing it from becoming law.  Since the Federal Government's decision in 1996 to remove CHMC from the process of building affordable housing, Canadians have been without a meaningful national housing plan. 

On July 8th, ACORN members and supporters are planning action in a number of cities across Canada to build support for this important piece of legislation.

For details on the Toronto action click here

For details on the Ottawa action click here

For details on the Metro Vancouver action click here

For details on the Hamilton action click here

 

Progress on Affordable Housing

Bill 58, amendment to the planning act passed second reading at Queen's Park yesterday.  If passed the bill would give Ontario's municipalities the power to enact 'inclusionary zoning' policies.  Inclusionary zoning works by granting developers increased density in new residential developments in exchange for including a percentage of affordable housing units.

The bill was brought forward by NDP MPP Cheri Dinovo, and won support from a number of Liberal MPP's as well.  ACORN Canada as been calling the Ontario Government to make inclusionary zoning legislation a key plank in the planned Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy.

Many thanks go out to all of you who sent a message to Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Bradley - his Deputy Minister for Housing MPP Donna Cansfield was one of the Liberal MPP's who voted in support of the bill.  There will be more to come as this campaign progresses.

Don't Bloc Affordable Housing

Image waking up one morning this spring and reading this headline:

"Bill to create National Housing Strategy defeated in House of Commons"

I don't want to feel like I could have done more and didn't. Do you? ACORN members have been organizing to build community support for Bill C-304 for a National Housing Strategy, but we need to keep the pressure up until the final vote.

Can you take action to help win the passage of this important piece of legislation?

Click to Take Action on this Campaign >>

Inside Toronto: ACORN members call for more apartment polling stations

July 15th, 2010 by Mike Adler - Inside Toronto

For those who find it hard to walk or hard to care, two or three blocks to a polling station is one more reason not to vote.

The City of Toronto can change that by putting a poll in every building with 100 apartments or more this fall, the advocacy group ACORN told municipal election officials Thursday, July 15.

Edward Lantz, a St. Jamestown tenant, handed a letter with that request to staff at the city's election services office and asked for a meeting with City Clerk Ulli Watkis, responsible for poll placement.

Municipal election turnout is low, particularly for tenants, read Lantz. "In the name of democracy, we hope you take this request seriously."

Outside in Nathan Phillips Square, red-shirted members of ACORN - Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now - said tenants with disabilities, seniors and busy single mothers can find even a short walk to a polling station too long.

"There's handicapped people who can't get around and they don't want to go all the way to a school to vote," said Marion Callow, a Weston woman. "There's people that are scared to get around."

ACORN member Mary Blakelock of Scarborough uses a cane and has called candidates for a lift on election day, but said not everyone knows they can do that.

Bonita Pietrangelo, the city's director of elections, said having a poll in every large apartment building would be impossible for this October, given the number of vote tabulators the city has.

The city must have polling stations in retirement homes with 50 or more occupied beds and in institutions for the disabled or chronically ill with 20 beds or more, she said this week.

But for the first time, the city must also ensure all its voting locations are accessible to the disabled, so Pietrangelo said her department is reviewing each one before the election.

Tenants in the demonstration said they will work on removing other barriers to participation, which include, some said, widespread apathy toward politicians who never seem to listen.

If votes from tenants are scarce, "that's because they haven't been heard for a long time," said Lucy Fukushima of Riverdale.

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