NIAGARA RESPONDS WITH LONG AND SHORT TERM STRATEGIES
Submitted by Christine Whelan
JUNE 24, 2021 VOL. 2 ISSUE 22
Looking For Help Now
Tom Insinna, Regional Councillor, posed a question to A. Jugley, Commissioner, Community Services, at the Niagara Region Public Health and Social Services Committee Meeting on June 15th.
He began with stating that he understood there have been task forces and groups put in place to tackle the housing issues, “But they are looking at options that are for down the road — 1 year, 2 years, 10 years down the road.”
He was leading up to his question around addressing short-term strategies, that people need help now.
“As of late, one of the big things in Fort Erie is, I call them ‘renovictions’. What’s been happening, is landlords are, I call them bullying, tenants, forcing them out, saying ‘I’m going to do renovations on the facility and you have to leave for three months. Here’s some money to go. Sign this piece of paper. And by the way, if you want to come back, it’s going to cost you five or six hundred dollars more a month.”
I know this may sound like an exaggeration or mockery, but this writer has heard examples of this way of interacting with the tenants, and it all sounds the same. Every time.
“And the unfortunate part of all this is, a lot of this is being directed toward those who can’t afford anything else. So, you’re looking at the less fortunate. You’re looking at the vulnerable people in our society. And you are looking at people who have mental and emotional issues that they are dealing with. Many are on Social Assistance. Those who are, are only getting seven to eight hundred dollars a month. How can they afford to do this?”
Insinna continued his presentation. “So, what’s been happening in Fort Erie, is that we’re getting these landlords who are telling people, ‘You’re out.’ In the last three to four weeks, I’ve had numerous people calling me, one being an 87-year-old, who is now facing eviction, as of August 31st.”
The Regional Councillor feels the homelessness numbers are about to go up in the very near future.
His question was around what is being addressed as a short-term solution. “What I’m suggesting, along with accepting this 10-year housing and homelessness action plan, is that we move a task force be created in order to look at the short term, the very near future. We’re talking about people in the near three to six months, we’re going to have an influx of individuals who are going to be looking for somewhere to live, who are going to be homeless. And these are the people who are less fortunate and who are vulnerable.
“I looked at the statistics that were put forward by Director Cousins,” referring to Cathy Cousins, Director Homelessness Services, Niagara Region, “and 22.8% of people can’t afford to pay their rent. I’m suggesting to you, that that’s going to go way up, if things start to progress as it has been.”
Insinna then posed the question to the Commissioner, “Is it possible, can we put together a group of people to think outside that box and come up with short-term plans for mediation. Maybe a think tank to explore ideas like putting up ADCO trailers in an area. Non-traditional ways. So we have somewhere to put the influx because, the way things are going — it’s sad. It really is sad. And it’s disheartening that money comes first. So, I’m putting to the Commissioner, is there a way we can either slow down these renovictions or do something to assist those people?”
A. Jugley stated, “We’ve been experiencing and observing this type of situation where people are being evicted as a result of a landlord deciding to do substantial renovations to their building, the tenant is removed, then the landlord is obligated to offer the opportunity to come back but he can now raise the rent because he’s done substantial renovations.” Jugley stated that the term ‘substantial’ is key.
“This actually has been going on for a number of years.” She was referring to areas outside of Fort Erie. “It started back around 2015, when the housing market changed. And we’ve been observing it in Community Services for quite some time. What you are seeing in Fort Erie, sadly, is not new.”
She continued, “What we do now, as we always encourage people to do, is to seek legal advice before they sign anything or agree to anything because the expectation when people are being evicted for this purpose or asked to leave for this purpose is that the renovations are substantial, not a fresh coat of paint.
“So actually, the Residential Tenancy Act has some consideration for the grounds with which someone can embark on this. You can’t just say, ‘out ya go, I’m gonna go from beige paint to white, and then you come back and your rent goes from $800 a month to $1300 a month’.”
The Commissioner was aware, “There are situations where people are being offered large amounts of money to leave. We still advice that they get legal advice because this could seem like a short-term win, but it actually could be a long-term loss when they go to try to find apartments and they can’t at anywhere close to the rent they’ve been paying.” Jugley stated, as long as the renovations are substantial, the property owner has a right to take this action.
“The second line of defense is making sure that we’re continuously supporting new housing stock in the market that would balance things out.” The Commissioner listed, “We have a number of things put in place. We have had a number of builds, including with Niagara Regional Housing. There is a build underway in Niagara Falls. They’ve just completed a build in St. Catharines. There was a build also with Bethlehem Housing. There are a number of projects in the not-for-profit area where there’s project management support.”
When addressing Insinna’s proposal of the more short-term, in the meanwhile solution, she responded, “I think that the idea that we build modular, rental units that are temporary would be a pretty substantial investment, over and above the investments that are already happening.”
In continuing with explaining current strategies, Jugley said Niagara Regional Housing has added housing allowance that helps people bridge that affordability. “It isn’t full rent subsidy, but it helps make rent more affordable.” She concluded with listing a couple further programs that have been put in place.
The Commissioner admitted these strategies are not targeting the evictions due to renovations specifically but more the housing issues as a whole.
Insinna wrapped up with, “I understand that much is being done. But I guess I get disheartened when I see that, for a bachelor apartment, the wait list is currently 11 years. I know that what is being done is being done as quick as it can. I just get frustrated and sometimes I think we need to look outside the box. I realize it’s going to cost money, but I really think we need to do something else.”
Niagara Community Legal Clinic
I spoke with Lisa Ridsdill, Paralegal, of the Niagara Community Legal Clinic about the renoviction situation in the Niagara Region, and specifically about the circumstances in the Fort Erie apartment building covered in the previous two parts of this story.
According to Lisa, she and her colleagues have been working steadily for a while now, dealing with immediate needs of residents in the region. Three locations are in Fort Erie, including a couple of residents at 323 Niagara Boulevard.
The clinic is backing these residents 100%, willing to dispute any N13 in court for those who want to fight theirs.
Acknowledging one immediate need, the paralegal explained, “We would normally go into the location and give a presentation to the residents in person but because of pandemic restrictions, we haven’t been able to do that. We realize the need not only is still there, the pandemic doesn’t erase that, but that the need is now stronger.” So, they’ve come up with a solution, an adjustment to this empowerment tool. “We have created YouTube videos with the same information as the presentations. Residents can watch these videos for legal information, to learn about what they can expect, and to understand their legal rights. This is important.”
Ridsdill shared that there was a meeting held with municipal government members a couple weeks ago to discuss short term solutions.
When discussing a concerning factor, “Usually, when this type of situation becomes public, the harassment tends to calm down, but not in the case with 323 Niagara Boulevard. We are addressing that.”
Lisa encourages any residents at this location, if they have not already done so and requires support, to contact her.
“No one will be left homeless. We are fighting for that,” the paralegal assured.
Lisa also shared, that as of the date of this interview, June 16, Bedford Properties has not applied for one permit with the Town of Fort Erie.
Lisa is inviting anyone else in the Niagara Region who finds themselves in a similar “renoviction” situation, to contact her by phone or email:
For the videos, go to YouTube and search, Niagara Community Legal Clinic. There is a variety of videos to watch.