Affordable housing a personal election issue for tenants facing eviction

The shortage of affordable housing is a recurring topic in Ontario's provincial elections, but in Ottawa's Heron Gate community — where 105 townhomes are set to be torn down and their residents evicted — it's personal this time.

Families losing homes in Heron Gate struggling to find new affordable housing

Margeret Alluker and her four children are facing eviction from their Heron Gate townhouse. She fears they'll either be forced into an apartment too small for their needs, or have to leave the community to find a place with rent she can afford.

The shortage of affordable housing is a recurring topic in Ontario's provincial elections, but in Ottawa's Heron Gate community — where 105 townhomes are set to be torn down and their residents evicted — it's personal this time.

Margeret Alluker and her four children moved to the Heron Gate community in 2012 to escape the higher rent she was paying for a detached home in Elmvale Acres. They started out in a highrise building and moved to their townhouse in 2014.

Now, faced with eviction by the end of September, the family is on the hunt again, and Alluker isn't optimistic she'll find something similar in the neighbourhood for the same rent — about $1,300 per month, plus utilities.

The prospect of moving far away is especially upsetting to Alluker's daughter Ammat, 8.

"She started crying, 'I'm going to miss my friends. I don't want to change my school,'" said Alluker, an immigrant from Khartoum, Sudan.

Heron Gate resident Margeret Alluker says her children are devastated they are being forced to move and change schools. 0:35

'We need more houses to be built'​

The family is living on social assistance while Alluker studies business administration at Wallace College, and they've already spent six years on the city's wait list for social housing.

"I went there last week, explained to them the situation that right now is happening," Alluker said. "They were like, 'There are many people with the same issue that you have right now on the list here, so you have to wait at least eight to 10 years.'"

Alluker volunteers with the community group ACORN, which is organizing a rally Thursday morning to protest the evictions. She also has a message for election candidates.

"We need more houses to be built," she said. "And also I just want to say that business people building new construction, they should include affordable houses with them, too."

Residents of the Heron Gate townhouse complex in Ottawa South are being evicted. Their landlord, Timbercreek, is building a new resort-style development nearby. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

MPP running for re-election was a Heron Gate resident

John Fraser, the Liberal MPP now running for re-election, grew up in a unit just steps away from Alluker's, and continued to live in the development after he married and had his own children.

"It's a community. It's not just homes," he said.

In the short term, Fraser said he's focused on helping tenants facing eviction find new housing — as he said he did during a previous round of evictions in Heron Gate — but that his party also has plans to improve the supply of affordable housing across the province.

Recently, the Liberals introduced a new tool for municipalities called "inclusionary zoning," which allows them to mandate developers to include affordable units in new developments. They've also promised to spend $125 million on a five-year program to encourage the construction of new, purpose-built rental apartment buildings.

A recent change to building regulations is also likely to boost the supply of lower-cost housing, Fraser said. "We've allowed wood construction to six storeys now, which I think will make things more affordable to builders."

Fraser took a jab at his Progressive Conservative rival, saying a PC government would hurt people such as the Heron Gate residents struggling to find new homes.

"Doug Ford and the Conservatives want to end rent control. How's that going to help these people? It's not going to help at all," Fraser said.

PCs say they won't end rent control

In recent days the PCs have shot back at Liberals on the question of rent control. The Liberals have seized on a March video on the Globe and Mail website, in which PC Leader Doug Ford is heard saying of rent control, "I don't like it. I like having the market dictate."

On Tuesday, the PCs issued a news release titled "Doug Ford won't take rent control away from anyone." And Ottawa South PC candidate Karin Howard told CBC in a telephone interview that she also supports rent control.

Those measures have expanded under the Liberals to apply to all units, including those built after 1991, such that annual rent increases for existing tenants can be no higher than the rate of inflation.

Howard also pointed to her party's plan to commit $1.9 billion to mental health, addiction and housing supports as a source of help for those needing affordable housing.

A PC government's approach to private business could also lead to an increase in supply, she said.

"Our approach is to tax less and to try to encourage the construction of new units and new homes because governments can only do so much," Howard said. "We are going to be reducing all kinds of costs, and hopefully this will stimulate construction."

The PCs have also promised to review the province's real-estate portfolio to increase housing supply or municipally led affordable housing.

John Fraser, who's seeking re-election as the Liberal MPP for Ottawa South, grew up in this townhouse in Heron Gate now slated for demolition. He says his party's recently announced plan for inclusionary zoning will help municipalities boost their supply of affordable housing. (Susan Burgess)

'It's a real disgrace'

Eleanor Fast, the NDP candidate for Ottawa South, called the impending demolition and eviction of tenants in Heron Gate shameful.

"That Timbercreek was allowed to let these units fall into such a state of disrepair, that they're actually being torn down, it's a real disgrace," Fast said.

Eleanor Fast, the NDP candidate for Ottawa South, said her party would build 65,000 new units of affordable housing if they're elected. (Susan Burgess)

The NDP is promising a comprehensive review of the Residential Tenancies Act to protect renters, Fast said, as well as to build 65,000 new units of affordable housing and 30,000 units of supportive housing.

"Kathleen Wynne for the last 15 years really has not acted on affordable housing," Fast said. "There are now 185,000 families waiting for affordable housing in Ontario.

"That's more people waiting for affordable housing than actually living in affordable housing."

Housing money needed 'fast and unfettered,' city councillor says

Mark Taylor, the city councillor who produced a report on housing and homelessness in March, agrees there's a big need for more affordable housing in the city.

In the past, developers were more interested in building rental townhouse developments suitable for families, he said, but these days many real-estate investors don't want to be landlords, preferring instead to build units for sale and then move on to the next project.

The long wait list for social housing also continues in spite of the province's investments in new units and building repairs, though Taylor said he's heartened by the new National Housing Strategy announced this year.

Taylor's message for the provincial candidates? Get that money moving to cities without too many strings attached.

"We need to see it fast and we need to see it unfettered," Taylor said.

About the Author

Susan Burgess

Associate Producer

Susan Burgess is an associate producer on CBC Radio's All In A Day. You can reach her at Susan.Burgess@cbc.ca or on Twitter @susanmburgess.