PHOTO CREDIT: https:/bit.ly/2ybaaZo; 

This piece raises an important but little-discussed problem facing many in Toronto St. Paul’s. Comments and counterpoints welcome – please send them to [email protected].

For the sake of the author’s relations with their neighbours, we’ve agreed not to reveal their identity.

It is true that no one is spared by the COVID19 virus: any one of us can contract it. But what is not true is that we all are equally affected by this pandemic.

It is become staggeringly clear that not everyone is going to experience its impact the same way.

 

I work on human rights and social justice issues. My first concerns were: What are Indigenous people on reserves who have been under boiled water advisories and live in crowded, moldy housing conditions going to do when someone contracts COVID19? How can they possible implement the recommendations being espoused by all levels of government under these conditions?”

I have no answers. As the news of the first positive case in Eebametoong FN is announced, I am angry and dismayed. Because after literally decades of neglect from our governments, the impact of COVID19 on reserve will most certainly not be felt equally.

Others will feel a disproportionately negative impact as well: the homeless, the imprisoned, those in long-term care facilities, and the list continues.

Essentially those who have least benefitted from an economic system built on profit-making real estate, resource extraction, and oil.

So, before I address yet another inequity, I must first acknowledge these other profound concerns.

Another group feeling a disproportionate impact are those of us who live in rental units. We are at least housed, however those of us without large private homes, back yards, and many rooms to escape into, face unique challenges.

I hope I don’t sound bitter. But I have worked hard my whole life in a line of work that does not afford me huge a huge salary. I also have experienced a workplace injury that left me unable to work for almost 7 years. I am one of the privileged who has fallen through the cracks and relies on social housing and rental places.

I live in one of the few affordable places left in Toronto. So, sadly the general modus operandi here is fear-based: “don’t complain, we might lose our housing.”

So, when a neighbor is unusually loud, there is often little recourse. While it is even difficult to negotiate an equitable resolution between neighbours during normal times, it is extremely challenging at a time when we are all at home, working, resting, and trying to find sanctity and peace in the middle of a health crisis.

As I write this, I am on my second round of complaints to the landlord and to the provincial and municipal governments. For some days, the music pounding through from my neighbours’ apartment has stopped. But this afternoon, just as I had taken a huge sigh and let out a breath of hope,, it returned. Hours of music.

The vibrations remind me once again that I live at the mercy of a neighbour who has different sensibilities than me. And the fear that I might have to endure these different sensibilities for possibly months mentally flattens me.

In these challenging times, common courtesy has never been more important. I imagine many renters are having to endure the inconsiderate ways of other renters. I am sure we are not alone in this. But the stakes are higher at this time of social distancing.

For those of us who live in low-quality rental units or housing cooperatives with volunteer boards, what is our recourse in these times of high stress, and mental health challenges when the laws don’t support the challenges we face? I am sure we are not alone in this. But the stakes are higher at this time of social distancing.

In the best of times, the line of recourse for renters or housing co-operative members is very limited in Toronto. The Harris Conservative decimated housing policies. Rent controls was abolished, noise by-laws were softened and rarely enforced, and building-inspection departments that afforded us an avenue of complaint for maintenance issues was abolished. The Housing Tribunal is left, but it has a long, arduous process and most often sides with landlords.

And as for current by-laws, they often aren’t enforced, and aren’t adequate to deal with intensely dense urban buildings that are decades old and do little to contain noise, particularly when people have to stay in their homes 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The take-away for me so far is that COVID19 is a horrific virus for anyone; I don’t wish it on anyone. That said, its impact is most certainly not being felt equally. For so many, it is being disproportionately felt in very negative ways. The legacy of Provincial and Municipal Governments’ policies making good housing a privilege rather than a right. This is at the root of this problem and makes managing a much bigger deal for many of us.

I have approached various levels of government and hope that someone will reach out an olive branch in the middle of this pandemic and address these issues.

But even more importantly, I hope governments will finally see that we are in desperate need of a whole re-evaluation of our housing policies. Because right now, our policies are making healthy, quiet, and good housing inaccessible to many of us.

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