Housing for less
by Kaziwa Salih
If you are by yourself or with a big family when you arrive in Canada, you may find that rents or housing costs are much higher than in the country you came from. Paying the rent can quickly become a big concern – especially if you do not yet have a job. Family, relatives or friends may advise you to apply for subsidized housing. Is this a good idea?
What is Subsidized Housing?
Subsidized housing is supported by governments across Canada.Through their joint efforts, they offer rental subsidies to low income families, commonly called “geared to income housing.” This translates to receiving a rental subsidy of 25-30 percent of gross income to help you through the growing housing dilemma.
Metro Toronto Housing Authority was created in the late 1940s to deal with housing the poor during the post war times. The goal was to eliminate the development of slums in the city. In 2002, it merged with the other public housing providers to form what has now become one of the largest public housing providers in North America. Not all applicants are eligible for subsidized housing. The housing connection’s website has posted the requirements (read them here).
The Advantages of Subsidized Housing
Subsidized housing is a good short term option for families with low incomes, for unemployed people and for people who have survival jobs. Since tenants pay according to their income, not market rate, they don’t have to worry about the impact of losing their jobs and they also get free maintenance.
“For a family, who has young children, yes, it is worth it,” says F.Y. a mother of three. “I have been in subsidized housing for almost 18 years. My children were young, now they are university graduated, and if I wasn’t in this house I couldn’t have afforded for them to be educated.”
E.Y. (25) says; “Students who are living in community housing have the right to apply for the Dr. Albert Rose Bursary which helped me a lot.” [This established in 1984 by the Ontario Mortgage and Housing Corporation to help low income public housing tenants with the costs of going to trade school, adult education programs, college or university]
The Disadvantages of Subsidized Housing Waiting List
Eligibility is not the only barrier to obtaining one of these houses. The sheer number of applicants on long waiting lists is another issue that applicants face. The second quarter report from the housing connection for the period of April 1st – June 30th, 2008 shows the total number of applicants on the subsidized housing waiting list to be 128,454. The staggering number of applicants compared to the number of available homes and apartments create a big discouragement to applicants. Applicants are on five to seven year waiting lists to obtain the housing subsidy.
Design and Social Gap
Mihran Meroman, Fateme Ferehdan, and K.A.Sal are all tenants of one or another of the Toronto housing complexes. They complain of poor maintenance, unhealthy environments, broken bathroom tiles, broken doors, unfinished basements, rodents/cockroaches and more.
Kyle Rooks, a Media Relations Consultant in the Public Affairs Division at Toronto Community Housing says, “Toronto Community Housing has in fact invested more than $550 million since 2002 to provide our tenants with better housing through our Unit Refurbishment Program and our Building Renewal Plan. We also have learned that we will receive $75 million from the City of Toronto and $36 million from the Provincial Government of Ontario to invest in our buildings.” He adds, “In some communities like Regent Park, Don Mount Court, Rivertown, and Lawrence Heights, the condition of the housing is so poor and run down that investing [more money] no longer makes economic sense. In these instances we must look at the opportunity to rebuild and revitalize.
When we move to revitalize a community, not only do we have the opportunity to build better housing, we have the opportunity to create a better community where people have access to social and economic opportunities that support their basic needs to succeed.”
Living in a subsidized housing complex can be hard sometimes. During the investigation for this article, many tenants expressed their concerns about violence and crime.
Constable Wendy Drummond of the Public Information Department of Toronto Police Service, explains that “I don’t have specific crime rates for addresses. What I can tell you is that there is a higher concentration of crime areas in the Northwestern part of the City, and in the east end of the City.”
Nonetheless, Fatemeh Ferhdan, a mother of two children in one of the Scarborough’s community housing complexes says, “I’m not passing a day without stress and concern for my children.” Also, resident Ibid Micah says, “While there are always exceptions, where some people can survive these base conditions and come out successful, for the most part, people break down in it and fail. When these conditions break down, so do its people.”
Rooks, at Toronto Community Housing, explains that the city understands the problem and that everyone has the right to feel safe at home. “We are taking action to build safe and healthy communities by spending $13 million on patrol and enforcement, improving assets to incorporate electronic doors access, CCTV and grounds-keeping to promote safety, moving to evict people who commit serious illegal acts on our property – while being mindful of the fact that many crimes aren’t committed by our tenants – [and] attacking the root causes of poverty by focusing on engaging tenants in community safety planning, programs for youth, tenant-job employment opportunities in work that we do and reclaiming outdoor space.”
What is your plan?
Before you struggle for subsidized housing, you should understand the procedures and potential problems.
• Paying 30 percent of your income may not be much now, but it may seem like a lot once you are well employed.
• If you get in, it is better to think of living there as a short term plan. When you are able to work and find a job, leave that house for other people who urgently need those homes.
• Focus on working or gaining skills for work. Do not stop trying to find a full time job.
• Take care of the house as if it was your house. Be clean and neat. Don’t set a bad example for the children by breaking or not taking care of things.