They don’t eat properly. They don’t have enough money for essential items. They live far below the poverty line. And they live in vermin- and pest-infested buildings where the elevators break down monthly or more often.

Too many have one or more major repair issues in their unit. One in five pays more than 50 per cent of their income on rent.

“They’re living a standard of living that is far below what they should be entitled to in a province as wealthy as Ontario,” said Kenn Hale, Director of Advocacy and Legal Services at the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO).

On Wednesday morning, ACTO released the results of their poll of the housing platforms of the Liberals, NDP and Conservatives at the 519 Church Street Community Centre.

“The biggest pocketbook item for 30 per cent of Ontario voters was barely mentioned in the core platforms. The Liberals are running on their record, seeing no need to take further measures. The NDP has lots of ideas but is not ready to put all their cards on the table. The Conservatives appear to be out of touch with issues that affect people who are not property owners.”

The full responses from the Liberals and the NDP are posted on the ACTO website. Although the Conservatives acknowledged that they received the questionnaire, they didn’t respond to the survey or to requests to clarify their position on housing and tenant issues.

“A campaign promise is one thing and it’s a valuable thing,” said Hale. “But we also thought we should look at what the parties have done when they’ve been in power over the last 20 years or so.”

He said more commitments are still needed from every party. And the only way to get that is by contacting candidates directly by email, phone or in person at all-candidates meetings and asking them what their position is on tenants rights and increasing the supply of affordable housing.

“That’s really the only way we’re going to get the housing that we need,” said Hale.

Susan Gapka of Tenants for Social Housing, a Toronto based group that opposes the sale or privatization of social housing, opened her presentation by holding up a sign that said “We’re Not For $ale!”

“Our homes are important,” said Gapka. “They’re more than bricks and mortar. We need mental health frameworks. We need social supports. We enjoy the tenant participation system.”

But the one man Board of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) decided to sell 22 homes.

“My three minutes are up,” she said jokingly. “Because that’s how much time Executive at City Council gives tenants to present. And that’s only when they don’t cross our names of the list.”

Gapka and her colleagues were at City Hall in July addressing the Executive Committee at 5 a.m. rather than being at home getting some much needed rest.

Later, Case Ootes decided he wanted to sell 900 more units to finance the outstanding repairs on other TCHC buildings.

“So we’ve had a hard time with this administration,” said Gapka. “But you can sign our petition and go to a provincial all-candidates debate and ask them to stop the sell-off of social housing.”

Sometimes social housing tenants may have barriers that prevent them from getting to polling stations to cast their vote.

“Bring someone with you,” said Gapka. “Organize a group to go the polls or advanced polls. Because that’s the message politicians will hear.”

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.