By Nooria Alam and Harshita Singh
On Saturday January 14th, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) organized a “Scarborough Tenant Speak Out” action in 215 Markham Road, bringing many frustrated tenants down to the lobby of their Markham and Eglinton area building.
The group of tenants created a list of demands regarding deteriorating building conditions for landlord CAPREIT Management to address, including: poor heating, dysfunctional stoves, substandard insulation on windows and doors, inadequate building security, low water pressure and an overall lack of respect for tenants.
Many of the tenants of 215 Markham have ongoing repair concerns that go ignored. Residents have been forced to accept whatever standard of living is set by CAPREIT Management because they have no control over their own homes.
The tenants have been told to make repairs themselves, and several have paid upwards of $2,000 out of their own pockets to make badly-needed improvements to their apartments. One resident who has been living at 215 Markham for over 10 years explained that when the property manager finally sent someone to fix the drafty windows in his apartment during the winter, “all he did was fill the cracks with sponge”. This is the bare minimum required according to the City’s by-laws, and did not improve the heat in the apartment. And that will still be the way repairs will be made after the City’s new Landlord Licensing program comes into effect.
“Management pretends to not understand when we go to them about our problems”, says Sean, a tenant of 215 Markham. “They ask you to repeat yourself over and over again”.
Building conditions appear to be poorly kept because immigrant tenants are easily exploitable by management. 215 Markham tenant Lucy remarks that CAPREIT Management “knows we’re newcomers and this building is very well situated for us in terms of access to transit to get to work and school. They know that we’ll put up with a lot to continue to live in this community.”
“While it is extremely difficult to get management to come do repairs in their apartments”, says another resident, responding on condition of anonymity, “if someone forgets to pay their rent on time, management is very quick to respond”. It is clear that CAPREIT Management’s priority is to to do as little as possible to still be able to walk away with a rent cheque.
It is encouraging to see that the group of tenants stood up, took action, and eventually succeeded in pushing their landlord to turn the heat on in the building. This action was important because it showed that there is power in people coming together around a particular issue.
What would these struggles look like if tenants of all the buildings managed by CAPREIT management united together for living conditions equal to anyone else in the city? What kind of unity would be required of these working class residents – between women and men, between immigrants and citizens that have been here for generations, between young people and seniors? Between next-door neighbours?
As residents of Scarborough, we must support the tenants of 215 Markham in challenging their landlord and demanding that changes be made to their housing conditions. In our own buildings, it is necessary we become united and work collectively towards our shared interests, and allow ourselves to think beyond single-issue struggles if we hope to have any control over our homes and living conditions.