I had the opportunity to visit the Social Development Centre Waterloo Region (SDCWR) in Kitchener, where I was welcomed by the Aleksandra Petrovic Graonic, executive director at SCDWR.
The Eviction Prevention team works to mediate issues with landlords, educate tenants about their rights as tenants and the responsibilities of landlords, and amplifies the voices and visibility of 2SLGBTQ+ and BIPOC tenants who struggle with secure housing.
This all-women team consists of three workers, one for each city of the tri-cities and this trio gave me sobering ins.
Michelle Knight, the Eviction Prevention worker for Cambridge, has lived experiences of dealing with illegal eviction and harassment from landlords.
“Marginalized renters face living in conditions that are unhealthy and at times unsafe for fear of eviction. Harassment and abuse from landlords has been increasing and tenants have little community support or recourse,” Knight said.
Residents in underserved neighbourhoods face harassment on a regular basis in this region. With the price of single family homes skyrocketing by over 81 per cent in the last decade, low-income families are left with minimal options, one of which is renting. As the housing market cools, the pressures of the rental market persist.
Jenaya Nixon, the Eviction Prevention worker covering Waterloo said renting is not affordable in the region.
“Rents remain unaffordable and inaccessible. Local landlords are making verbal threats of eviction to force tenants out who may not know their rights or have the capacity to self-advocate,” Nixon said.
Wait times for subsidized housing in Kitchener-Waterloo range from three to seven years, low-income individuals and families often find themselves living in precarious rental arrangements.
Hollee George, the Evictions Prevention worker for Kitchener, said there is a lack of safe, accessible and affordable homes in the region.
Knight emphasized how mentally strenuous it is to live in unsafe conditions, as landlords will purposely not repair major issues such as heat, leaks and safety hazards with hopes of cornering tenants into moving out.
Similarly, Nixon said moving has a two-fold impact on renters.
“These folks lost their homes and their connections to their communities,” she said.
Landlords sometimes deceive tenants about the standard of the dwelling, fail to provide safe and secure housing, neglect necessary maintenance and harass tenants through eviction and renovictions.
When tenants do agree to allow renovations to take place they are not provided temporary lodging fees, moving fees and are welcomed back with exuberant rent price increases which surpass the ODSP monthly allowance, effectively displacing them.
The limited housing options for low-income or marginalized populations is a side-effect of gentrification in the city.
“Gentrification has forced many renovicted KW residents or residents harassed and abused by their past landlords to flee their homes and downgrade to worse units due to rising rent costs or become homeless,” Nixon said.
Along with abuse from landlords, renters are disadvantaged by the gentrification which has accelerated the loss of affordable housing, while the general supply of housing is often redeveloped and sold off according to Knight.
The combination of these factors creates a precarious atmosphere where prospective and current tenants frequently report experiencing harassment, racism, classism, homophobia and ableism from their landlords.
These complaints unfortunately go unheard for extended periods due to the major backlogs in the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) as 2,000 evictions are waiting to be processed.
Wait times for hearings can be two or more years which leaves tenants vulnerable in many cases.
Fortunately, the team still has been able to make progress since their inception.
“The movement toward providing safe, accessible and affordable housing in the region is slow and painful but progress is being made nonetheless,” George said.
With renovictions and evictions increasing in the Region, it is essential that rents are aware of their rights, and understand the responsibilities of landlords.
Furthermore, George states that there are local services for residents who are in need of assistance such as the SDCWR Eviction Prevention team, Waterloo Region Community Legal Services and, for urban Indigenous residents, the Ahwenehaode Indigenous Justice Program.
Although the team remains hopeful, they said more government support would be helpful.
“Any hope for affordable housing and safe and fair living conditions depends on improved municipal, provincial and federal legislation and enforcement,” Nixon said.
She said there must be consistent and swift consequences for landlords who violate the rights of tenants, but we as a community can do our part in ensuring that our neighbours are not victims of abuse or neglect from landlords.
“[We must] stand in solidarity. Engage with politicians, be visible and use your voice. Enough of this ‘not my problem’ attitude in the community,” George said.
The Eviction Prevention team provides a crucial service throughout the Waterloo Region. Organizations like the SDCWR and their groups such as Eviction Prevention team and the Lived Expertise Working Group play a vital role in helping marginalized folks find the support they need.
Housing is a human right and, while it is difficult to envision a better future, Nixon challenges us to persevere.
“I understand it’s exhausting to constantly fight for the rights you should be or are entitled to, but it’s important,” Nixon said.