A year after city launches strategy to reduce poverty, what's been done?

A year after the city launched its poverty reduction strategy, low income residents in privately owned apartment buildings say they see little difference in their lives.

Private landlords aren't doing enough to make their buildings livable, tenants say

Tina Ouellette has lived in a one-bedroom at105 West Lodge Ave. for about three years. (John Lesavage/CBC)

The residents of Parkdale's West Lodge apartments can reel off the problems with the buildings: broken elevators, no heat, cockroaches, the stench of urine.

We call them the Harlem of Parkdale.- Tina Ouellette

"We call them the Harlem of Parkdale," Tina Ouellette said of the 19-storey towers.

She pays $900 for a unit in 105 West Lodge, near Queen Street West and Jameson Avenue. She shares her place with a roommate and said they've had problems with the heat for three years.

"I've got the city on it. I've got court orders. Still waiting." she said. "They told us they'd be by this week. Still waiting. Told us they'd be by last week. Still waiting."

Residents at 103-105 West Lodge Ave. said the buildings are in need of many repairs. (John Lesavage/CBC)

Toronto adopted its poverty reduction strategy a year ago, with one of the main objectives being to improve the quality of affordable housing in the city. 

While Toronto Community Housing (TCH) has partnered with private companies to perform regular maintenance on its publicly-owned buildings, many who live in private housing say they have, quite literally, been left out in the cold when it comes to maintenance. 

But city council's tenants issues committee met Wednesday and proposed changes to address those issues. 

Coun.Janet Davis, who represents Ward 31, Beaches-East York and sits on the committee, said the current bylaws aren't tough enough on landlords with poor housing conditions. 

"You need a business licence to operate a hairdressing shop and you can operate an apartment building with hundreds of units and run it badly, and the city has very few tools to press landlords to improve living conditions," Davis said.

The committee is considering changes like larger fines and a review of problematic buildings to force repairs by "not allowing them to take new tenants until building repairs are completed," she said.

The city has the power to step in and make repairs to private buildings and the cost to owners' property tax bills, but Davis says it should make use of that power much more frequently.

105 West Lodge Ave. owned by Wynn Group of Companies (John Lesavage/CBC)

City council is expected to decide in December whether or not to proceed with a licensing system for landlords of buildings three storeys or higher and with 10 units or more.

In the case of West Lodge, CBC Toronto archives show the same west-end high rises in 1994 when residents complained for a reason all-too-familiar to Ouellette — lack of heat.

Just three years after that in another CBC Toronto report, long-time resident Anna Thacker called the buildings "a war zone. It's like we live in a third-world country. The elevators never work. You see cockroaches and mice dancing all over the place."

Today, outside those same buildings at 103-105 West Lodge, owned by the Wynn Group, Ouellette said she lost faith that repair people will ever come.

"Have they come to places like this? Cuz I really don't think so. I've seen them at 245 Dunn," Ouelette said referring to an apartment building not far away.

That building just south of Queen West near Jameson is owned by TCH.

'Creative approach'

Since the city's strategy started, the housing corporation received 80 per cent fewer reports about issues involving water, heat and elevators, in the corporation's 58,000 units, said spokeswoman Lisa Murray.

"On any given day there are 700 capital repairs in the city," she said.

TCH spent $250 million this year as part of its capital repairs program. The corporation has replaced "32 football fields worth of roofing" over the last four years, Murray said.

The corporation is the main landlord providing rent that's geared to income in Toronto. Its spokesperson estimated there are still 95,000 households on waiting list for TCH and the 240 other social housing providers in the city.

She said partnerships with private developers have helped with maintenance in recent years. Condo developers Tridel, Daniels Corp., Context and Metropia bought parcels of TCH properties and agreed to share in some capital repair costs and fund social development through scholarships and pre-apprenticeship training.

It's a "creative approach," Murray said. .​

Toni Hoffman and her daughter, near the donation box that Hoffman said has become a gathering place for West Lodge residents. (John Lesavage/CBC)
It stinks in there. It smells like pee. There's cockroaches everywhere.- Toni Hoffman

In the meantime, single mom, Toni Hoffman said her rent is $1,100 for one-bedroom at 105 West Lodge where she lives with her two-year-old daughter.

"It stinks in there. It smells like pee. There's cockroaches everywhere. I make complaints all the time and they don't do anything. My heat doesn't work. Door is broken. I submit requests and it's a black hole," she said.

CBC News called the Wynn Group, which owns more than 4,500 units in the city, for a status report on repairs but didn't receive a response.