Lots of numbers and little comfort for those awaiting social housing

Bill MacDougall knows all too well about the struggle to survive in a city that is becoming increasingly expensive to live in.

“It seems to me there are a lot of people in this city who are just (barely) getting by … and I am included in that by the way … and are one paycheque away, or in my case two, from homelessness,” he said.

MacDougall, 70, is finding it difficult to make ends meet so he came to a lecture given recently by John Clarke of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) at the University of Toronto’s OISE campus to ask a few questions.

MacDougall believes that there many others like him, seniors who are finding it difficult to make it on their own, and who don’t speak out. He offers a rough estimate that there are over 100,000 just like him in Toronto.

“They’re below the poverty level, but they’re not so below that they’re one step away from homelessness. I would suggest to you that there are probably in this city about 100,000 … that’s just a rough estimate. It could be twice as many. I talk to these people and they’re all in the same position as me,” he said.

It is also because he struggles so much that MacDougall applied years ago for subsidized housing. Over the years he would get a letter from the housing corporation asking him if he was still interested, in it he says there is no way to contact them and let them know he is.

“They send you a letter, they don’t interestingly enough send you a return envelope. I’m a conspiracy theorist” he jokes. In the end he did contact the housing corporation to let them know.

When Bill MacDougall first applied to Housing Connections (an organization meant to assist in finding rent geared to income homes), he was told the wait could take a few years, but he says the time kept getting pushed back.

“Five years ago I went to this place, they told me the waiting list would be five years. I went back two years ago and they told me the waiting list was now 10 years,” he said.

John Clarke founder of OCAP said there is great demand for government owned housing in Toronto.

“There are 20,000 people living there and 70,000 on the waiting list,” Clarke said.

Toronto Housing has its share of problems, critics of public housing say it’s over crowded, it needs major repairs and has pest problems.

The Government of Ontario recently pledged $100-million to housing initiatives throughout the GTA. Clarke believes the $100-million figure is not enough to fix housing in Toronto.

“There is a figure being bandied around of $300-million within Toronto that is needed to bring the buildings up to a basic legal standard. They don’t deny they’re not complying with section 70 of the residential tenants act,” Clarke said.

Clarke gave an example of a building that once used to house OCAP’s office, that can’t be lived in despite the fact there are thousands waiting for homes in the city.

“One particular example that stands out to me is a building at 251 Sherbourne; it’s a place that until a few years ago was providing a lot of family-based homes. It’s deteriorating now to the point that even though there are 70,000 people on the waiting list (all over Toronto for a home), they actually can’t take people off the waiting list and put them in there because the building is so bad.