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Services board taking bold stand on ‘slum’ property owners

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

By Chris Marchand

The Kenora District Services Board says it’s going to crack down on landlords who are renting unsafe units to their affordable housing clients.

The issue was raised at a KDSB meeting, June 15.

Services Board CAO Henry Wall says if helping people is indeed a concern of KDSB programming, then it can no longer directly or indirectly support property owners whose units are unsafe, have become hubs for criminal activity, or who are abusing the system.

Wall says the low vacancy rate and high demand for housing sets up a difficult to address problem.

“What really did it for us is when we learned that we now have landlords renting out mop closets in some of their buildings for the maximum shelter allowance through Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program,” said Wall. “That tells us that we have folks taking advantage of the housing shortage and taking advantage of people.”

Wall says that those who end up in such properties are already among the most vulnerable members of society, unable to secure shelter anywhere else. Once there, it is a near certainty that they will end up involved in criminal activity, substance abuse, or be victimized in some way.

“Landlords won’t rent to them maybe because they’re Indigenous, they’re poor, maybe they’re struggling with a disability, an addiction or a mental illness,” said Wall. “We have a property in the district, an eight-unit building. In the last four years the police have been there over 900 times. That doesn’t include 911 calls. Almost every tenant who has moved into that building has had a poor outcome. You start adding that all up and it’s incredible how costly these locations are to our communities. We have units where it is preferable to be on the streets than to live there. It is that bad.”

Wall says the Services Board’s stance is fairly unique in the province and he says getting the situation under control will involve coordination with other agencies.

“We need to be working with our municipalities and townships through property standards, fire and building officials” said Wall. “We need to be working with public health — the Northwestern Health Unit has authority and powers that should help to address some of this. Also working with police. As communities we have to make a decision. Are we going to stand for this? The KDSB is dedicated to improving lives, not just processing cheques.”

Wall admits the idea of withholding a client’s benefits in an effort to spur a landlord to ensure his units are fit for human habitation is a complex and controversial move within the provincial framework in which they operate.

“What is our moral and ethical responsibility knowing that we’re setting families up to fail every single time if they go in here,” said Wall. “If the answer is that we do have a responsibility, then what’s our course of action? We believe it is this process.”

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