Windsor·Exclusive

Public housing 'harsh' in evicting woman who's now homeless, says legal aid

Evicted from a public housing unit after nine years on a low income subsidy, 63-year-old Katherine Mackenzie now finds herself homeless for the first time in her life, sometimes sleeping on a park bench.

Katherine Mackenzie's geared-to-income status was stripped over paperwork issues

Katherine Mackenzie is now homeless after being evicted by the Windsor Essex Community Housing Corporation. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Evicted from a public housing unit after nine years on a low income subsidy, 63-year-old Katherine Mackenzie now finds herself homeless for the first time in her life, sometimes sleeping on a park bench.

"I'm traumatized. I'm so stressed out, I can't even think," said Mackenzie. "I'm having a hard time because I have a lot of health problems."

I'm in that category that all slips through the cracks.- Katherine Mackenzie

After a long battle in front of the Landlord and Tenant Board, Mackenzie was evicted from Ashgrove Manor apartments in Windsor on Friday for being in rent arrears.

That all happened because her geared-to-income status had been removed by the Windsor Essex Community Housing Corporation (CHC) over paperwork issues.

VIDEO: Mackenzie gets emotion when describing how the eviction changed her life:

Katherine Mackenzie fell behind in rent after her geared-to-income subsidy was removed over paperwork issues. She couldn't afford market rent and was eventually evicted for being in arrears. 0:40

Mackenzie's rent has been $115 each month for the last nine years, when it suddenly shot up to market value, which is more than $700 per month — something she couldn't afford with the $400 per month Mackenzie gets through Ontario Works and CPP payments.

"I'm in that category that all slips through the cracks," said Mackenzie, referring to affordable housing, the lack of rentals and long wait lists for services.

I think it's very unfair, and very unjust.- Christina El-Azzi, case worker at Community Legal Aid

After reaching out to Community Legal Aid for assistance, they were able to get her subsidy reinstated. However, Mackenzie said the CHC refused to apply the geared-to-income rate retroactively. That means she owes more than $6,000 in rent arrears, plus interest, for the time between the subsidy being removed to when it was reinstated in October.

"It's a situation where the client was treated in an unduly harsh manner," said Christina El-Azzi, case worker at Community Legal Aid. "I think it's very unfair, and very unjust."

No rules broken

Because the Landlord and Tenant Board doesn't weigh in on rental subsidy decisions, El-Azzi said the adjudicator was forced to grant an eviction order based on the facts in front of them — rental arrears. 

"It's not just about the letter of the law, it's the spirit of the law," said El-Azzi. 

"On paper they're not technically doing anything wrong, but in practice ... we now have someone who is homeless, who's dealing with mental illness, physical illness and I don't think any of that was really taken into account the way it should have been."

Community Legal Aid case worker Christina El-Azzi meets with her client Katherine Mackenzie. (Jason Viau/CBC)

The eviction is final and Community Legal Aid continues to connect Mackenzie with community resources to help with her current situation.

Public affairs manager, Kari Schofield, for CHC, couldn't comment specifically on this case because of privacy reasons.

However, generally speaking, Schofield said when a long period of time goes by without geared-to-income paperwork, and a Landlord and Tenant Board ruling is made, there's very little they can do at that point.

"Our opinion is that we did work very long, and for a long period of time, with this individual to assist, even up to this particular time. It just has not been a successful tenancy," said Schofield.

The CHC also said they don't take evictions lightly and try to work with tenants to ensure this doesn't happen. Last year, 102 tenancies were saved through a mediated agreement.

Katherine Mackenzie is evicted from her geared-to-income unit at the Ashgrove Manor in west Windsor, which is operated by the Community Housing Corporation. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Mackenzie is homeless, waiting for housing

For now, Mackenzie is on a wait list for geared-to-income housing, a place that will also accept a cat, which she's been told could take up to a year.

Watch as Mackenzie talks about being homeless for the first time in her life: 

The 63-year-old woman talks about the struggles of being homeless for the first time after what she says was an unfair eviction. 0:36

Without a roof over her head, she's been staying at the Downtown Mission whenever they have a bed available. If they're full, she sometimes finds herself sleeping on the streets.

"It's unbelievable," said Mackenzie. "I've never been in this position in my life."

About the Author

Jason Viau is a video journalist, TV host and radio newsreader at CBC Windsor. He was born in North Bay, but has lived in Windsor for most of his life. Since graduating from St. Clair College, he's worked in print, TV and radio. Email him at jason.viau@cbc.ca

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.