London's housing crisis is getting 'worse and worse,' agencies say

Two agencies that work with London's poor and homeless are sounding the alarm about a crisis that is showing no signs of stopping.

Many of the affordable units that exist are in deplorable conditions, agencies say

It's very difficult to find anything affordable for rent in London. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Two agencies that work with London's poor and homeless are sounding the alarm about a crisis that is showing no signs of stopping.

The executive directors of LifeSpin and the Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre say London city council has made plans, asked for consultations, drafted bylaws and set guidelines -- but isn't acting on making affordable housing available.

"It's just getting worse and worse and worse," said Margaret Wills, head of the Crouch centre which serves 2,000 people a year in the Hamilton Road area.

Wills says she sees one homeless person a day coming in to the centre, which serves meals, connects people with resources and tries to help people find a place to live.

"There's nowhere to house them. We have nowhere to send them," Wills said.

She's asked to speak at a city hall committee next week about the crisis she sees and the need to act now.

'Something has to be done quickly'

"We have this five-year plan on homelessness and it's a very good plan, but people need a place to live right now," Wills said. "When there's a fire or flood, you don't put in place a five-year plan. You act. There needs to be a real will to help people out." 

Wills suggests housing people in motels, trailers or other buildings. 

It's just getting worse and worse and worse- Margaret Wills

"Something has to be done quickly while we do this long-range planning," she said. 

Yesterday, she spoke to a woman who was evicted. She ended up moving in with an acquaintance who had five other people living with her, each with pets, and no running water.

There are more people sleeping rough on the street and couch-surfing in unsanitary, dangerous conditions than ever before, Wills said. There's a year-long wait list to get city housing and although shelters have some spaces available, not everyone wants to stay there.

Rules not being followed

Many of the people she sees have pets and aren't allowed to stay in shelter with them.

"They'd rather sleep on the streets than leave their pets. It's the only thing they have," Wills said.

Last week, Wills said she attended a meeting about how to approach people who are sleeping rough and start conversations with them about getting off the streets. All well and good, she said, but there's nowhere to refer people who want to get housing.

City councillors will also see a presentation next week that was first made to London's housing advisory committee by LIfeSpin, a group in Old East Village run by Jacqueline Thompson which works with 5,000 low-income Londoners every year.

Thompson says the city has set bylaws to regulate property standards, given itself benchmarks for how much affordable units new developments have to have and what rent should be, set out ways to get more affordable housing projects going -- but hasn't been following it's own rules.

"What's the point of having these rules if we're not following them," Thompson said.

Thompson drove around the city taking pictures of homes that are derelict, run down and unsafe. Since she submitted that report to city hall, some of the properties have had bylaw officers go out to enforce property standards bylaws, she said.

Sandra Datars Bere is London's Managing Director of Housing, Social Services and Dearness Home. She tells London Morning that affordable housing is getting further out of reach for low income earners in the city. 7:59

"I shouldn't have to drive around the city taking pictures to get something done," Thompson said.

Gentrification in the Old East Village and SoHo are driving up housing prices and rents, and pricing people out of those areas, she said.

Survey finds bad conditions

LifeSpin surveyed 205 families about their living situations, and found that a third were living with a disability, and all had children.

Half or more than half lived in apartments that needed plumbing, flooring, windows or walls replaced or repaired.

  • 30 per cent had bugs, pests or rodents
  • 11 per cent had a missing or broken fire and carbon monoxide detector
  •  90 per cent had notified their landlord of those problems.

"People are having to choose between paying the rent and eating," Thompson said.

"Just because you've lost your job or your spouse has passed away, you shouldn't have to live this way. It's just not acceptable in this community. We are very well to do, we have the means to make sure we have acceptable housing for people, we need to start taking responsibility."


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