In Canada, The Plight of Low-and-Moderate Income Families is an Issue with Allies

Narinder Nann

Hamilton     The ACORN Canada biennial convention is many things to many people, especially ACORN members, but it is also a measuring stick of the increasing power and influence of the organization.  There were more members in attendance.  There were more cities represented.  Even the fact that the convention was held in Hamilton where the organization has been resurgent in recent years.

Listening to some of the guest speakers was an excellent barometer.  After fifteen years, ACORN has clearly become an essential part of the progressive agenda.

The first day included a rousing call to action by a newly elected city councilor in Hamilton, Narinder Nann, whose district includes several of the local ACORN groups.  It is also ground zero for pressure on tenants from developers and evictions.  Rent has soared to over $1100 per unit in recent years.

Anthony Marco, president of the Hamilton District Labour Council was also rousing, and his speech could have been given by an ACORN leader.  He talked about the privileges that came with his position and the fact that he had made a living wage as a teacher and had a pension when so many didn’t.  He had a great line about the ridiculousness of candidates that talk saving the middle class, rather than acknowledging that we were working class people in a rich country and needed to do better for its people.

Hassan Yussuff,

The head of the Canadian Labor Congress, Hassan Yussuff, spoke at length.  Along with the other speakers, he recognized the fact that ACORN was a vital part of any coalition with progressive goals, he underlined that by raising up key parts of the labor program that were shared with ACORN.  Affordable housing was one, but so were issues that in many countries organized labor would not have highlighted.

He spoke of the need to raise welfare benefits by 30%.  He used his own mother as an example and the fact that she was almost 95, but her pension wasn’t enough to live on.  He made a point of the issue for unemployed having the right to appeal their denial of benefits that had been taken away from them under other governments.

Listening to all of these speakers it was clear that they were not simply pandering to the ACORN crowd but had embraced our issues as their own.  To hear the head of the national labor council talk about predatory and payday lending, long an issue that has been a standard bearer for ACORN’s work in Canada was a clear sign of the organization’s centrality in the progressive ranks.

It turned out that NDP, the New Democratic Party, the left amalgamation in Canada was having their national convention in Hamilton at the same time ACORN was there. Jagmeet Singh, the head of the NDP, came by to say hello as members were registering for the convention at McMaster University.  Years ago, when he was a member of Parliament, he had introduced our bill on remittances.




Double Whammy on the Desperate in Ontario

ACORN Canada Board Meeting

Hamilton         The ACORN Canada board and annual general meeting was in full force before the biennial convention was scheduled to begin in Hamilton, Ontario. Hamilton is a former steel-making, industrial city along Lake Ontario, roughly midway between Toronto, the queen city of Canada, and Buffalo, New York.  Hamilton is having a revival of sorts, but that has also meant more pressure on affordable housing for low-and-moderate income families in the city.  It wasn’t long in the leadership meeting before these issues came front and center in the conversation.

Lower income families are caught in a double bind on housing between rapacious landlords trying to take advantage of galloping gentrification and new anti-poor policies of the conservative government in the province led by Doug Ford, something of a Trump-wannabe.  In Ontario clawbacks are still king, unlike British Columbia where ACORN led a victorious campaign to stop “clawbacks,” which are forced deductions in welfare-related payments to offset any income received by recipients of aid.

We’re not talking big money, but it’s critical for family support.  In Ontario, a single person on welfare receives $656 monthly; a single person with one child, $941; and a couple with two children, $1,173. A single person on ODSP or Ontario Disability Support Program receives $1,098 monthly; a single person with one child, $1,515; and a couple with two children, $1,791.  Getting a little bit extra in some month would be a godsend, and certainly if the policy were designed to support independence, rather than acting punitively towards the lower income, it would be seen as a godsend.

Landlords in Hamilton, like one of the largest in the downtown area, Malleum, with whom ACORN has been campaigning, specialize in evicting renters or renovictions, claims that apartment units are being renovated in order to remove tenants.   One of the main tactics in renovictions has been to offer tenants a couple of hundred dollars in moving or relocation money by making the case that they are going to be evicted anyway, so they might as well take the money to move because of the extra expense.

The Hamilton ACORN leaders told the story of one of their members, named Elizabeth, who had agreed with Malleum to relocate and find another place, and accepted the money to pay for the move.  She duly reported her changing address and the moving payment to the welfare.  The day she moved she went to collect her check and found that it was zero.  The province had clawed back every cent claiming that the moving money was actual income, leaving her with nothing but the double whammy of extra expenses for moving and relocation and no income support for the month.  Outrageous!

The leaders bounced around various ideas to stop this two-pronged attack on lower income families.  Could they block this at the Hamilton level, since it was unlikely that they could win at the provincial level?  Could they get a credit union to create an account or have some other third party, take the payments when negotiated fairly rather than used to facilitate evictions, so that the money would not count as income?

One-minute leaders were talking about policies like rent control, landlord licensing, inclusionary zoning, and other anti-gentrification measures to protect tenants, but the next minute they were dealing with the real-world immorality and family crises fomented by existing policies with little purpose other than to punish.