Tag Archives: Toronto

Fighting for Affordable Housing on All Fronts in Toronto

Toronto    The fight for affordable housing is global, but Toronto and ACORN Canada have been at the forefront of this war for the last fifteen years, and even while winning major victories, including recently landlord licensing or RentSafe, as the city calls the program, ACORN members want much more and are committed to fighting to get it.  Listening to an ACORN housing forum with fifty members in the Scarborough area of Toronto last night, there was no question about their determination on a number of fronts.

On the RentSafe program, Marva Burnett, ACORN Canada’s president and the president of ACORN International, was clear, saying “We want more!”  The inspection program only guarantees that apartment complexes will be visited every three years. Burnett made the point that when it came to health no one said only check your temperature or teeth every three years, why is your housing so unimportant.  She and ACORN also advocated red, green and yellow signs after the inspections similar to what a restaurant receives if it passes.  She added that ACORN members were lucky to eat out twice a year, but lived in their units every day, so safe and healthy housing was a higher priority.

 

The real issue the members argued is that the City of Toronto defines affordable market rent as $1200 per month, and that is “not affordable.”  One of the bulletins being discussed in the small strategy groups at the forum zinged the fact that only one in forty units of housing being developed in Toronto is affordable even under that definition.  One speaker after another said the word “condos” in the same way others would spit out curses.

One part of the campaign now demands “inclusionary zoning,” and this has been a huge battleground.  ACORN is demanding that 30% of developments on private land be affordable rental units and 40% near transit stops, fully recognizing that even on private land developments cannot succeed without public support, infrastructure, zoning allowances, and amenities.  On public land, ACORN is demanding that 100% be rental, and 50% be affordable.

After an explication of the issues still unresolved and the ongoing housing crisis for tenants and low-and-moderate income, the members broke into smaller groups to devise action plans for moving the campaign forward at the next stages.  This is going to be a long, hard fight.

Toronto has always been a tenants’ city in the fifteen years of ACORN’s organizing here, but as the wealth gap increases, areas, like Scarborough, are increasingly condo-and-mall-construction zones.  Driving to the new City of Toronto Hilltop community center where the forum was being held it was hard to recognize some of the areas I remembered years ago when Judy Duncan, ACORN Canada’s head organizer, and I first drove through the neighborhood plotting the early organizing drives.  ACORN leaders and members were spot on:  this is a fight for survival in the city!

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Toronto Elections Goes Canada Crazy, Notwithstanding

Woodhaven, Ontario       In Paraguay the frame of reference was constantly back to the end of the dictatorship thirty years ago and the process of rebuilding civil society, institutions, and a democratic tradition in their country.  Suddenly in Canada for the annual fall organizer training sessions and management meetings for ACORN Canada, I found myself trying to unravel the wildness of the Toronto election crisis precipitated by new, rightwing populist Trump-wannabe Ontario Premier and former one-term Toronto city councilor, Doug Ford, against a frame of reference that seemed more common to Paraguay’s history than that of Canada’s.

What’s going on here?  City council elections were set in Toronto since the spring in the city’s 47 districts.  Candidates lined up, declared, and away they went.  Ford, the new Premier of Ontario, seems to have become confused about whether he was elected or enshrined to the throne, and unilaterally ordered the 47 districts cut to only 25 without so much as a never mind it seems.  Commentators, pundits and politicians seem to ascribe it mainly to old feuds from his time on the council and his late brother’s raucous ride as Mayor of Toronto.

Of course, there was legal action by the councilors and not surprising there was a judicial ruling, and this is where it really starts getting weird as Ford channels his inner-Trump to the outer extreme.  The court ruled that the move abridged the Charter of Rights and was unconstitutional.  Judge Belobaba wrote in his decision that “It appears that Bill 5 was hurriedly enacted to take effect in the middle of the city’s election without much thought at all, more out of pique than principle.”  The Toronto Star summarizing the judge’s decision added that he “blasted the province for failing to justify the cut to council, saying it submitted little evidence to support a hastily prepared argument that the legislation would result in more effective representation or that it would make council more efficient and save money.”  So, the October elections in a little more than a month were back on in 47 districts.

The court’s decision upset Ford, whose understanding of an independent judiciary seems in tune with President Trump’s.  According to the Star story, he claimed,

“I was elected. The judge was appointed. He was appointed by one person…A democratically elected government, trying to be shut down by the courts — that concerns me more than anything,” he said, adding the courts have made him feel like “I’m sitting here handcuffed, with a piece of tape over my mouth, watching what I say.”

So, he claims he’s going to fix that and overrule the Judge using the “notwithstanding” clause passed initially to prevent the secession of Quebec from Canada and only designed for extraordinary circumstances, and never used previously in Ontario though it has been employed once in Quebec, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

So, in the Canadian circus, Ford is calling the Ontario parliament into session to pass a bill to overrule the judge and is appealing Judge Belobaba’s ruling to the higher court.  It’s a US Senate kind of problem though, because Ford has the party line majority to muscle through his new bill, so no one knows what and who will really be before the voters in October so the only thing certain is that lawyers will be running in and out court.

When this whole democracy and basic democratic rights thing is not just under fire in Hungary, Poland, Turkey, India and elsewhere around the world, but in the United States and, oh my god, even Canada, we’re really in the middle of a citizen rights’ conflagration totally out of control.

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