OPINION: New government needs to block drug dealers from social housingMay 24, 2018
Nothing has been done.
More than a year after Toronto council voted unanimously for the Kathleen Wynne government to change provincial legislation to help keep drug dealers out of social housing, they’re still in there.
That’s right. Council voted unanimously – and when does that ever happen? — in support of Mayor John Tory’s push to get dealers out of our taxpayer-supported housing and keep them out.
It isn’t hard to see that something should be done. Under existing provincial legislation, a drug dealer can be evicted from social housing – an unnecessarily lengthy and complicated procedure, but it can be done. Here’s the catch: Once they’re kicked out, they can immediately apply to be readmitted, and landlords can’t discriminate against them. So says the Housing Services Act.
Tory has correctly said: “Right now we have no discretion but to say, ‘Come on back.’”
It gets worse. Dealers who don’t live in social housing buildings can walk in and out a dozen times a night to visit customers. In most provinces, the landlord could ban these criminals. But under Ontario’s Trespass to Property Act, if these people are ‘buzzed in’ by a tenant, then they are considered visitors and have free access. Even if they are going in and out multiple times a night to different apartments for five minutes at a time. They are still ‘visitors.’
Tell me that can’t be changed.
The lives of vulnerable tenants are at stake. When I served as secretary of the Mayor’s Task Force on Toronto Community Housing in 2015, our chair and I visited more than 70 TCHC buildings. Many were in great shape. In some, though – and any is too many — I saw crime-ridden wrecks under siege by drug dealers and their runners.
When I went to one complex off Eglinton Ave. in Scarborough, the tenants told me “during the day, Toronto Housing runs this place. But after 5, the dealers are in charge.” The residents lived in fear – and, tragically, their fears were justified. On April 21, a man was stabbed to death. The police described the deceased as “an intended victim.” Almost certainly drug-related.
What’s most frustrating is that this can be fixed.
What I saw going on in another building in East York was shocking. After dark, we hid in bushes opposite the front entrance. A runner stood in the front lobby buzzing in visitor after visitor. One young fellow pulled up in a BMW and got out clutching a fat wad of bills. He went inside and emerged about five minutes later. He was proudly flaunting the money he was taking from low-income victims. A sickeningly callous display.
That guy can be stopped.
The people in that complex have paid a terrible price. Two people were shot last July. A man was fatally stabbed Oct. 28.
Some would argue that these drug dealers have rights – to live where they want and come and go where they please. But the 120,000 people who live in TCHC have the right to live in a safe and secure home. Barring criminals from subsidized housing is tough justice, and so it should be.
Kathleen Wynne’s Housing Minister Chris Ballard was questioned about this in the legislature, and said, “Eviction, for these people, really means nowhere for these folks to go.” But why should people be allowed to operate profitable criminal enterprises in buildings owned by the people of Toronto?
If the polls are to be believed, it’s largely irrelevant what the Ontario Liberals think about this issue now. They had years to act and did nothing.
But will a new Doug Ford or Andrea Horwath government step up to try to protect the people living in social housing? A motion went before the Ontario PC policy conference Nov. 25 stating that anyone who is evicted from social housing for serious criminal activity should be permanently barred. It passed with a vote 90% in favour.
I’ll be thinking about this as I cast my vote June 7. Who is most likely to step up for low-income people under siege from the heartless criminals who victimize them?