As Toronto gets ready to host a national housing summit Friday, where stakeholders and government officials will discuss ways to address homelessness and the shortage of affordable housing, there are many in the city for whom it isn't just a talking point, it's a reality.
For some, the wait to get affordable housing can be nearly a decade, and Sherri Williams was one of the many on the long waiting list.
She spent seven years waiting to get housing for her and her five kids, and only just moved into her new home in July. It was something made possible by Habitat for Humanity.
'Trying to become better and do better'
But Williams's journey to get affordable housing began much earlier than that. It was back in 1994 when she realized she needed it.
"That was probably one of the lowest points in my life. I had a couple of kids and at the time I was in between jobs, going to school also," Williams told CBC News. "So I was trying to become better and do better for my family, and I was paying increasing large amounts of rent."
After being put on the long wait list, she landed a spot with Toronto Community Housing in seven years. And before moving into her new townhouse, she lived in an apartment building.
Getting off the waiting list wasn't the end of her problems, however. She saw the poor living conditions in community housing firsthand. Williams says there were holes in the walls, bugs, wiring issues, urine and garbage.
"We wait for this very long time on the waitlist to get a home that you're going to have to fix up yourself or you're just going to have to live with it and hope that you're going to live through the nights and the days."
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Despite that, more than 97,000 households — more than 177,000 people — are waiting for housing. For a one-bedroom unit, households have to wait an average of nine years, and the average wait for a three-bedroom unit is seven-and-a- half years.
For the elderly, that wait can be much too long.
"It's sad because you have an elderly person who's worked their whole life and got a really crappy pension out of it, so they need an affordable home," Williams said. "They're probably going to die before they actually get an affordable home."
'It's a crisis'
To help others who are now facing difficulties getting affordable housing, Williams has become an advocate and works with a group called Tenants for Social Housing.
"Because I've lived it, like I've seen it. My kids have been through it and they shouldn't have," she said. "You just keep on fighting so that ... you lessen the fight for somebody else."
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Williams will be at the housing summit today along with politicians like Mayor John Tory, and she is hoping all three levels of government will work together to fix affordable housing.
"I think it's a crisis and I think our governments have ignored it long enough."