This is one of those stories without a good guy or a bad guy. Just victims. And the cushion of comfort between the fortunate and the vulnerable is filled with a good deal of luck.
This past Monday morning I received an e-mail about an eviction. It was from a neighbor of the unfortunate tenant. By the time I arrived on the quiet block of duplexes in Cote St-Luc the bailiff and police had gone. All that was left were the worldly possessions of the tenant neatly stacked on the street as you can see in the picture.
There were neighbours milling around as well one gentleman who seemed to know more than the others about what the landlord and tenant in that duplex had gone through. In speaking to them all a sad picture emerged. A picture that illustrates a sad commentary about our city and system.
The eviction was legal enough. In fact the tenant had obtained several delays through the rental board. She is a woman living alone in the upper flat. She works, but had fallen on some hard times last year. She had fallen behind in her rent – first three months, then four, then more. The landlord tried to work with her and convince her to move a smaller place, or at least a less expensive place. She was paying $1200 a month.
For some reason she took no action. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes we’re just lazy and hope that something – anything – will happen. The landlord, a working man himself, had trouble paying his mortgage. He had to act. The result was the sad picture you see.
I could not help thinking as I surveyed the scene that “there but for the grace of God go any of us.” We live in a city where fully one-third of the households live below the poverty line according to government statistics. They probably err on the side of caution. We live in a city that has had the economic guts pulled out of it by more than three decades of political wars. Wars of division and discord appealing to the lowest common denominator. Wars that have led corporation after corporation to flee. Expansion in the private sector is negligible and foreign investment is even less.
It is hard for people to find a job and even more difficult to find better jobs. So when some fall on hard times, they often also fall between the cracks. Welfare is not always the answer. A woman like the one being evicted is working. Many like her are too proud to take welfare but have fallen into a category called “working poor.” The Rental Board is also no solution. It too often destroys the ability of small landlords – like the one in this story – to even pay their mortgages. So what’s the answer?
Well one answer that we have to start thinking about is that governments have to finally begin to take the provision of housing as a basic service they must provide. Not the way they used to by relying on the private sector to dedicate a certain percentage of units in a project as affordable housing. That wrong-headed policy helped to eliminate almost all rental construction in this city. The provision of affordable housing must become a priority that the provincial and municipal governments take seriously. Dedicated budgets, dedicated targets. It is a lot more important than the matrix of thousands of bureaucrats – supported by our tax dollars - enforcing hundreds of nanny-state laws and regulations. Making a “better” us is not the job of the state. Making sure we can survive after the carnage wrought by politics is. Let’s hope a picture is worth a thousand words and that this image pierces some hearts.