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Toronto Housing Crisis

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Issue: 62 Section: Photo Essay Geography: Ontario Toronto Topics: poverty, housing, economy

August 10, 2009

Toronto Housing Crisis

by Allan Lissner

TORONTO-The City of Toronto is struggling to cope with an ongoing housing crisis, according to The Toronto Report Card on Housing and Homelessness, published by the City of Toronto. The study reveals that 550,000 residents are living in poverty—that’s roughly 25% of the city’s population. With few options available to them, thousands find themselves living on the streets. In 2002, 32,000 people stayed in Toronto’s emergency shelters; 4,779 of these were children. Well-over 500 people have died on the streets as a result of being homeless. With the financial crisis being felt around the world, there are no indications the situation is improving. For one of the wealthiest cities in the world, how is this allowed to happen?

The following photos tell the stories of a few of the people who have found themselves losing control over their lives, living in government housing or on the streets, as well as some people who are raising questions about the City’s priorities and looking for solutions themselves.

S.T. has been on disability insurance since he was 18 years old because of heart, weight and breathing problems. He uses an old respirator here to catch his breath after climbing the stairs to his small apartment. "I would love to get a job and everything else, but I am not capable because of the sickness in my body and people don’t understand that." His disability pay is just enough to cover rent, leaving him with just $250 a month to survive on.
Val has lived in government housing for 19 years. She has baskets and carpets tacked onto the crumbling walls in her apartment to hide the cracks. She describes herself, with a dry sense of humor, as the curator of the "Tack Art Gallery." Conditions in the building continue to deteriorate, she says: ceilings and walls are crumbling, garbage collects in the halls attracting vermin, and a number of shootings and recent rape in the building make her feel unsafe. The City of Toronto is the landlord, but tenants' complaints have fallen on deaf ears.
Barbara is another tenant of government housing. She moved to Canada from Jamaica as an adult and started a promising career in early childhood development. She lost her job following government funding cuts and went to work at a grocery chain store, where she injured her back lifting heavy boxes. The injury has meant she is unable to find employment, forcing her to move this cramped one-room apartment. She is one of 70,000 Torontonians on the city's waiting list for community housing.
Housing activists spent the night of November 19, 2005, on the doorsteps of Toronto's City Hall in solidarity with homeless men, women, and children. They were demanding the City adopt a clear plan to end homelessness in Toronto by 2015.
Police officers force housing activists away from abandoned buildings. Organized by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), activists attempted to enter abandoned buildings in Toronto`s upscale High Park neighbourhood in order to convert them into affordable housing to alleviate the growing housing problem in the city.
Police stand their ground outside abandoned buildings to prevent anti-poverty activists from entering the buildings. With over 500 people dying on the streets of Toronto since 1989 as a result of being homeless, housing activists are calling on the City to make use of the hundreds of abandoned buildings scattered across the city by converting them into safe and affordable housing for the poor.
In 2007, The Women Against Poverty Collective (WAPC) organized a demonstration and takeover of an abandoned building in downtown Toronto. WAPC is a group of women and trans-people advocating for safe, affordable and accessible housing for women experiencing violence. The building being taken over is one of hundreds of buildings in downtown Toronto that have been sitting empty and unused for years.
Throughout the day at the Women’s Housing Takeover, the atmosphere was festive, featuring music and dance performances. Later in the evening, when rain started pouring down, the police made their move. They surrounded the activists, kicked aside their tents, and began forcing the demonstrators away from the building. But the demonstrators refused to back down, linking arms and responding to the police with songs and chants.
Following the initial struggle, rows of police and demonstrators squared off in the middle of the street, staring each other down, waiting for someone to make the next move. Both sides can be seen here taunting one another. After a long standoff, mounted police charged in from the side causing demonstrators to flee.

Abandonment Issues is a coalition of housing activists fighting to have abandoned buildings converted into affordable housing. According to the group, "Toronto is in the throes of an affordable housing crisis that has seen thousands of citizens made homeless [...] Property that could house people is going to waste.

"When communities assert a collective right to their own neighborhoods, municipal policy should support them, not oppose them."

Allan Lissner is an independent photojournalist based in Toronto, Canada. Some of the organizations Allan has done work with include Amnesty International, GlobalAware Independent Media, Oxfam Canada and Make Poverty History.

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Toronto doesn't have a

Toronto doesn't have a housing crisis - there are tons of vacant apartments.

What Toronto has is a poverty problem. And a housing affordability problem. Big difference.

beautiful photo-essay!

Wow, nice work, Allan!

I really like the mini-bios and photos of people's places... and that last photo in the rain!



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