Low-income housing? Not in my neighbourhood

By Pat Watson Thursday May 28 2015 in Opinion
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To begin with, I am not a property owner, so that makes my bias upfront and clear. I am a renter and am in the same boat as most Toronto renters who on average pay 50 per cent and upwards of their earnings toward their shelter needs. There are people in this city who pay almost 100 per cent of their monthly income into shelter.

I’m reminded of a recent Toronto Star article that refers to a 62-year-old former construction worker, now unable to work due to a back injury. His monthly support payments of $1,200 cover the $1,011 rent for his apartment in Scarborough, so he eats thanks to food banks.

Imagine a future in this city in which the majority of low-income earners will, for the most part, live outside the city centre. Bear in mind that the majority of low-income earners are members of immigrant communities and are identified as being of visible ethnicity.

Already, a silent trend of suburban homelessness has taken hold.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has declared housing to be a human right. That is, it is a human right if you hold a strong belief in the sanctity of human life. Most of us do. Yet, some human beings hold the sanctity of their individual life as more valuable than that of other human beings.

Now, there are multiple ways in which we humans select our tribes. We tribalize by skin colour, by language, by education level, by income, and as we know today, by location of property owned.

It wasn’t that long ago that a mid-Toronto, west end neighbourhood, in the Oakwood and Vaughan area, put up a vigorous fight to block the establishment of a housing facility for men who would otherwise be without shelter. The service organization that will open this facility moved from St. Clair Avenue West as they made way for yet another high-rise condominium development.

The same not-in-my-back-yard-ism that creeps into too many neighbourhoods made it into the news again this week, as another neighbourhood organizes to fight the city over a planned low-rise in a leafy mid-Toronto, east end neighbourhood of million-dollar residential structures.

Toronto’s housing market is overpriced by many international estimates. You could argue that housing prices are cheaper here than New York City, especially Manhattan, or Tokyo, Japan, or Hong Kong, for that matter. But so many wrongs don’t make it right for Toronto to become part of that folly.

Selfishness and craven self-interest is at the core of this NIMBY attitude. Is it any wonder, our world is in such dismay?

If we want a more equitable world – and that seems to be a big IF – then there has to be a massive change in how we view our basic needs as they are the needs of all human beings.

I wonder how those NIMBY-ists would cope should anyone of them, by fortune’s favour, find themselves on the opposite side of their leafy, million-dollar lifestyles. How grateful would they be to have the opportunity to live in a clean, pleasant apartment unit in a desirable neighbourhood once again?

Life’s challenges can descend suddenly, and without warning, at which point a person would have to rewrite the story of who he thinks himself to be.

If you ever want to meet people who have cast off any societal artifices of who they are as human beings, then visit a shelter for the homeless. You will find there former stockbrokers and teachers, business owners and managers, people who would otherwise have respected positions in society. Let them tell you about their former station in life and how they have come to reside there.

A note on celebrating the struggle

Earlier this week, on May 25, we marked the 57th African Liberation Day with the theme All African Lives Matter: Organize at Home and Abroad. It should not be overlooked that the ongoing efforts for human freedom continues to require the efforts of us all. As African peoples and the children of the African Diaspora, we have to look beyond the comfort and safe familiarly of our near-tribal confines to embrace the evolving call to unity. “Behold how good and how pleasant it is when brothers (and sisters) dwell in unity.”

Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through a Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.

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