Margaret Allukar: Heron Gate renter and tenant activist
MARGARET ALLUKER MAY SOON BE HOMELESS: a victim of the largest urban eviction campaign in Canada.
Margaret is one of close to 600 men, women and children facing eviction, on September 30, from their homes in the Heron Gate neighbourhood in Ottawa.
The evictions are part two of real estate giant Timbercreek’s plan to maximize return on the 1,665 rental units it owns in Heron Gate. The company is already building new high-rent apartments on land opened up after their winter 2016 evictions of about 200 people from their Heron Gate homes.
Property rights vs. human rights
The Heron Gate community is low income and 89% visible minority. While no one suggests that alone is what makes them a target, it is a reality that cannot be denied and adds to legitimate human rights concerns about the whole Timbercreek project.
“Evictions that result in homelessness are a violation of international human rights law and must be avoided,” says Leilani Farha, Ottawa resident and the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing.
“Timbercreek, the City of Ottawa and other levels of government must put in place a formal process to explore, with the community, every alternative to eviction.”
Mohamed Iman is a Somali immigrant and father of seven who lives in Heron Gate. He is his family’s sole breadwinner, earning just $2,200 a month working nights as a cleaner at the University of Ottawa. The Timbercreek eviction will likely leave him homeless. “The people they told me ‘move,’ and I don’t know where I can move to,” he said.
Abdullahi Ali has lived in Heron Gate for more than 20 years. “We help each other, we get together, we share every problem, every important occasion,” he said. Other residents speek of babysitting one another’s children, carpools and translating for non-English speaking neighbours.
Ali was forced to move in the first round of evictions in 2016. He’s having no luck finding another four-bedroom unit for his family of nine for anything close to the $1,600 a month he’s currently paying.
Timbercreek turns the screws
The Heron Gate Tenant Coalition has advised its members that they are not legally required to move out before September 30. Timbercreek would have to apply to the provincial Landlord and Tenant Board to obtain an official eviction order.
The City of Ottawa will not provide a demolition permit until all services to the targetted homes have been shut off, and no residents remain.
The tenant coalition claims Timbercreek has stopped all maintenance and repair on its units in order to make living there undesireable.
The tenants claim: “Timbercreek has purposely let these units deteriorate so they can push out poor people and rebuild luxury rentals.”
Ottawa lawyer Daniel Tucker-Simmons represents the tenants’ coalition. He argues that the tenants facing eviction from Heron Gate are experiencing “housing discrimination” in their search for a new home, on the basis of their skin tone and ethnic background.
He argues the Human Rights Code of Ontario should be used to provide remedies for the discrimination against the tenants, such as:
- preservation or reparation of the residential complex, or
- additional support securing comparable housing in the area without dispersing community members throughout the city, or
- first right-of-refusal on similarly priced units in the redeveloped Heron Gate complex.
Whose obligation is it to provide affordable rentals?
“Everybody has sympathy, particularly for new Canadians, who need affordable rental accommodation,” said Michael Brooks, the CEO of a national industry association representing owners and managers of investment real estate.
“But whose obligation is it to provide affordable rentals?
“This may sound crass, but this is private property. The occupants are there under a rental contract, exchanging rent for accommodation. Sometimes people confuse what should be a public responsibility with private responsibility.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau maintains he has no such confusion. He made much of making housing a definite public responsibility last year when in declared: “Housing rights are human rights and everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to call home... and one person on the streets in Canada is one too many.”
And yet, municipal, provincial and federal authorities have all failed to act to protect the Heron Gate tenants from imminent homelessness.
For Margaret Alluker, Heron Gate was there when the public system wasn’t.
Margaret moved to the neighbourhood in 2012, around the same time she got on the city’s wait-list for social housing. Six years later, she’s still on the wait-list, and still living with her four children in Heron Gate...and facing eviction.
Margaret is secretary for the Ottawa south chapter of ACORN, a nation-wide social justice advocacy group. She participated in a July march to the Timbercreek office, to deliver outstanding work orders to highlight what ACORN described as “eviction by neglect.”
Margaret is no longer looking for a new house before the September 30 eviction deadline. Her hope is that the tenants will at least get more time to relocate.
“For me, the issue that we’re fighting for is not a one-single-person issue. It’s not my issue. It might be my neighbour can find a place, but for me, unity together is a good thing to make sure that next time, something like this will not happen.
“My daughter was crying like, ‘Oh I can’t move from here, my friends, I’m going to miss them, my teacher, my school.’ I was like ‘okay, we have to wait.’ I don’t know what will happen, but let us wait.”
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