Chronicling community action, revolutionary and revealing thought

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Tenant Protection Act Reform meeting-an excercise in futility?

So here's how my first Town Hall meeting went.
I entered, and looked around and Neelam Sharma waved me over to a seat next to her. The first thing that struck me was that I didn't see anyone from Parkdale's or Regent Park's demographic. They looked, to me, like they could all be living in the Annex. They could be tenants that are not doing too badly, or landlords, their supporters and their ilk doing the casual thing (I was almost right on one account, more on that later). I mutterd something about the place being "filled with landlords", and remembered my fellow members, in our new group Parkdale Action Coalition, relating the futility in voicing deputations when our mayor hadn't given the police their extra $50 million yet; they were relegated to the end of the line, the line up filled with pro-police supporters.

  Then Bart Poesiat showed up.

  I brightened immediately. I've seen him work himself like the thorn he was in ex-councillor Chris Korwin-Kuczynski's side in the past. His is a good voice to have at your side.

"So I asked Bart, "You see the Wynns?"

"Oh, no," he said. "You won't see them here. They'll never come to a thing like this."
"Oh really?"
"They'll get killed. It's mostly tenants here."
"Oh yeah."
Well, THAT's good to know! Still, I wished I saw more people from Parkdale. Where was Anna Thakar? I wondered. (soggy and if she went out again in the rain, she knew she'd get sick, I found out later.)
  Michael Rowland was the independent moderator; he gave the floor over to Brad Duguid. His delivery was, to my ears, too smooth. Too ... eh well you get what I mean. I thought, "oil slick." But then again I have a very sensitive bullshit detector. Or I could just be too sensitive.
Right. Back to what he was saying.
  He went on to say that "We've heard from tenants- concerns about the housing tribunal, rising rents, maintenance of buildings... We've heard from landlords, too."
(cue the bullshit detector...)
His tone took on that which you make when there's an argument and you're trying to tell one party the other party has a valid point.
"Landlords like the process the way it is now."
Derisive laughter from the majority of those seated. We're supposed to take that statement as is, and not analyse it, as if we're being unreasonable? Well yeah, they would like it the way it is now. They're sitting pretty(ier) than they did before Harris created the TPA.
  Sonia (Rolf?) took the floor and did a neat powerpoint presentation of the questionnaire. The official reason for the consultation included reforming the TPA of 1997, seeing that Ontarians receive decent housing, (I say official because we'll have to see if they actually listen and implement changes, or scrap parts of it altogether... more on that later). One of the points she covered was dispute resolution. She went on to state that the Ontario rental Housing Tribunal resolves disputes between landlords and tenants, and that if the tenant does not respond in five days to the eviction application, the Tribunal can issue a "default order" (without hearing).
"Tenants think the period is too short, landlords think it's too long."
Derisive laughter from those seated again.
  When it was time for those who wanted to speak to line up, Michael Rowland said there were long line-ups in London, Kitchener, Waterloo, Sudbury, and Scarborough, and everyone got a chance to have their say.
Fair enough...
Cathy from ACTO was the first to speak. She said we need a fair eviction process that uses it as a last resort. She went on to say there were over 100,000 evicted; and we need a new ORHT that is fair, open and unbiased. "Social housing houses 158,000 people; 42% pay 30% of their income on rent", she added, and noted that rents have increased in 1 and 2 bedroom apartments.
  A tenant's association representative, who identified himself as Rick, noted the remarkable results of the TPA: the remarkable amounts of evictions, the exodus from the city due to the high rents that's leading to a high school enrollment crisis (?!), and the over production of high-priced buildings no one can afford. He said "we applaud the 2% increase suspension for 2005", and that they should make the suspension permanent, not just for 2005. Applause from thoe seated.
  Another said that this was not the most accessible manner of reaching the most vulnerable members of the society, the thick executive summary, for one, and the venue was a barrier for them. This got applause. People would need help deciphering these materials, true.
  One person representing 900 apartment units pointed out that there was nothing protecting tenants from a bad landlord converting a building into condos.
  One landlord tried griping about "professional tenants" who drift from building to building...
Then one lady over to the far left in the rows behind me started sneering.
  God bless her. The voice of reason, to cut through the bull being offered up by truckful. No one attempted to silence her, either out of fear of her being picked out and displayed as an example of how unreasonable we, as tenants, are, or from a simple fussy need for order. Indeed, at her every retort, the majority indulged in gleeful snickering. Ah, to see the Wynns shoved into the midst of this!
  The third landlord (not the third to speak though; note the griping landlord) to say the same thing almost verbatim caught my attention; it was like a mantra. "The buildings are in better shape than ever..." "The market is working, why are you changing it?" At this announcement, everyone uttered a chorus of "Oh...." you could just hear them: what the hell was he saying? This dude got booed!
  I didn't see Eleanor Mahoney arrive. But she was at the microphone anyway. Another one, besides Bart, from Parkdale Legal Services. Rousing and spirited in delivery, she noted that the landlords had said that tenants could not afford their rental accomodations and it was an income problem. "They're right. It's THEIR income, and rents are too high!" Cheers and applause. Too boot, if a government demonstrated they have no cash, "what is going to make them take the cap off of rent controls and then give out endless income supplements? It doesn't make economic sense!" More cheers.
  Go Eleanor! She even managed to tell them about the Golden Cockroach awards for worst landlord! Upon hearing the award title, people hooted.
  I hustled over to Bart in the rows behind and asked why he wasn't speaking. He said he was busy handing out flyers, and there were enough of his compatriots there, besides the lines were too long. Meh.
  I found my seat in time to hear a classic.
  A representative for low-income Asian and S.E. Asian tenants said, "We applaud the fact that" the government has translated the literature they provided at the meeting into different languages, "including Chinese. However, the translastion is so poor that we have to translate it to them again."
A roar of laughter and applause. Me, I almost fell off my chair.
  "We will leave you with a proper translation. Thank you."
  Others came up to talk about timely maintenance and repair- that the government needs to improve work order compliance.
  One other said that just because the landlord decided to not do something for 25 years does not mean that the tenants should have to bear the capital expense. Huge applause.
  Another said there was a 25% increase in rents since 1995, that there are problems with the TPA default process, and that statistics Canada says 1 in 6 Canadians have problems reading and writing. They don't understand the order.
  One gentleman talked about how his landlord sold details of his tenancy to a landlords only website and that there are others, and "Where did the money for that go? HMM?"
  An employee at the Daily Bread Food Bank had this to say: that the people who come to them pay 64% of their income on rent, that 23% of them pay 74% of their income on rent, that $900 is the the usual rent with a median of $1300, and 55% of them do not have anyone to fall back on if they're in financial trouble.
  Someone from Jane & Finch Community Legal Services said that the poor, the working poor and new Canadians make up their clients, and said the Housing Tribunal was a major cause of homelessness, to a round of applause. No housing means you can't apply for jobs, no address, "What are you going to put as your address? Metro Toronto? Hmm?"
  At this point, an accountant in causal dress spoke up on behalf of... yup, you guessed it, landlords. There were numerous people talking on behalf of landlords, landlord groups, property management services and investors. I don't know how they could stand up there and say that everything's roses when they're disaster stories all around them. One woman in her flowery West Indian accent invited the representatives of the government present to accompany her to her apartment complex to see the state her fellow tenants were living in when the landlord was charging exorbitant fees for things like key money and hiking the rent.
  Another Parkdale Legal clinic representative spoke, and it summed up a sentiment predominant here. She related how when she had a problem in her place, her landlord fixed it, and how she felt strangely blessed and grateful, and she shouldn't be. "Tenants should not feel gratefulness for an equal service for their rent."
I agree.
And that's all she wrote.