On November 20th I gathered with the crowd outside the Supreme Court of Justice, waiting for this year’s National Housing Rally to begin. This was my first rally – ever – I had no clue what to expect. But the Supreme Courts, which had failed to recognize housing as a public right just two years earlier, were certainly the perfect starting grounds for affordable housing advocates to voice their discontent.
While I was very nervous, having no clue what to do, friendly organizers were handing out extra signs they had made and many people were sharing familiar greetings. One passerby stopped by to ask us what the protest was about. I expected the general public to have negative views of rallies, but he was all for it and wished us luck before he headed on. 11:00am was nearing, and after some rousing speeches from the organizers, we began to march down Yonge and across Queen St., headed for Toronto City Hall.
As soon as we started marching I felt the crowd swell. We were no longer in the double digits, probably just over 100. As we marched along Queen we got a few honks and caught the attention of 501 riders with our signs. At one point I had to squeeze behind a bus shelter to fit along the sidewalk, the crowd kept marching on.
When our group made it to City Hall finally, we stopped in front of the now-iconic Toronto sign. Other ralliers, all with their signs and slogans gathered around. “Take a letter, who wants to take a letter?” someone began directing, and huge orange letters spelling out HOMELESS were unveiled.
The message was heard loud and clear.
The National Housing Day Rally is actually part of a larger National Housing Week here in Toronto, where this year the City is finally beginning to deal with the serious lack of affordable housing and growing strain on existing social infrastructure that we have (read: TCHC’s seriously long wait lists of nearly 100,000 names, and the over $1.3 billion dollars of debt that I mentioned in previous posts).
The day before the rally Mayor John Tory, alongside Councilor Ana Bailao and Councillor Joe Cressy, announced his Open Door program to fast track affordable housing. The program will release 5 surplus City of Toronto sites, which will hold 389 affordable rental and ownership homes, and another 13 sites with affordable housing potential.
Open Doors will also provide the private sector with City of Toronto funded financial incentives to encourage them to build more affordable housing.
“Affordable housing is critical to the social and economic health of Torontonians.”
– Councillor Bailão
The rally was also meant to combat some serious stigma that affordable housing buildings and their tenants often endure. Just days before the rally, Councillor Gary Crawford faced an onslaught of booing and heckling at a community meeting discussing the relocation of the Birchmount Men’s Shelter. “We don’t want these people,” was the response from the majority of community members, fearing a decrease in neighbourhood safety and property values. Crawford however, is not to be bullied, and says he plans to continue his support of the project despite objections.
This NIMBYist attitude comes from a place of ignorance and fear, but it’s a very common one. Just watch this video from Raise the Roof on opening a homeless shelter in Leaside.
More than anything, the rally and call for the right to affordable housing was created in honour and on behalf of those lives who have already been lost. One of these was the death of a young woman named Jennifer Caldwell, who burnt to death in her sleeping bag under the Don Valley overpass. She was no more than 20 years old. The march ended outside the Church of the Holy Trinity where the Toronto Homeless Memorial, a monument that recognizes all the lives lost due to homelessness, is located.
For more information on National Housing Day and affordable housing in general, see ACTO.ca.