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.