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City of Ottawa defensive over public housing failure

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by Hugh Adami
The Public Citizen

The Public Citizen

Ottawa City Hall is on the defensive over the story of Rick Bertrand, the high-rise superintendent who has brain cancer and is trying to get into social housing after losing his job and the apartment that came with it.

Some people at City Hall resent my suggestion that silly bureaucratic rules are hampering the municipality in quickly providing Bertrand, his disabled wife, Tanya, and their little girl, Meghan, with a new place to live.

Too bad if I hurt any feelings. At least now some very senior people at City Hall and its agencies are working on this file, which wasn’t the case when Bertrand first went looking for help almost two weeks ago.

Bertrand’s story in The Public Citizen also caught the attention of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s constituency office, which says it is extremely interested in the outcome. The Bertrands live — for now — in McGuinty’s riding.

And Jim Watson, former Ontario municipal affairs and housing minister and a mayoral candidate in next fall’s municipal election, raised the Bertrand story a few days ago with Jo-Anne Poirier, executive director of Ottawa Community Housing, and Somerset Councillor Diane Holmes, chair of organization’s board of directors.

Mayor Larry O’Brien also had a chance to address the issue, but he did not respond to my voice mail, which explained why I was calling.

Watson agrees with me. He says it is paramount the city gets the family into social housing quickly, given their circumstances. He says it is not about having the Bertrands jump the queue on social housing’s waiting list, but rearranging it so that the family can be accommodated and their hardships eased a bit. “It’s not a question of queue-jumping. It’s a question of looking at who is in most need.”

Furious readers have also called and e-mailed the paper, some with offers of temporary accommodation if it means the Bertrands can avoid going to a homeless shelter on Wednesday when they have to vacate their apartment. That, if you can believe it, is what the city’s social-housing registry wants them to do if they want to keep their priority status for a subsidized unit. Meghan, only 21/2, has to go there, too, even though she could temporarily live at her grandmother’s home, about a kilometre away from the shelter.

Watson also thinks that forcing the Bertrands into a homeless shelter is unnecessary.

The Bertrands “have been beset by numerous challenges and the last thing they need, obviously, is to find themselves in a homeless shelter with a child,” he says.

Bertrand is now so fearful of losing priority status that he’s resigned to living in the shelter, even though originally, he said he couldn’t put his family through it. But now he says he wants to make sure his wife and daughter have a roof over their heads as soon as possible, especially as he may not have that much time to live. He’s had three seizures because of the cancer.

Bertrand’s horrific story has played into the hands of those at City Hall who are insinuating I don’t understand the rules and problems of a social-housing system that is busting at the seams.

The Bertrands look like pawns as the city gets a chance to advance its argument that the provincial and federal governments have to build more subsidized housing in Ottawa.

The housing situation is bad. The province is pitching in again at least, but it’s only a drop in the bucket. There are 10,200 families or individuals on a waiting list for 15,000 city-owned apartment and townhouse units and another 7,000 belonging to non-profit groups. More than 900 people on the waiting list — including the Bertrands — have priority status. The Bertrands are in the second-highest or “urgent” priority because of medical problems. (Tanya has hip dysplasia and needs hip-replacement surgeries.) Those who have the highest priority for social housing are women and children fleeing abusive situations. That priority is required by the province, while the other priorities are set by the city.

Those without any priority status could wait as long as eight years. The Bertrands have been told they could have a unit within a month or so. But I think it will be a matter of days, as there is much pressure on the city to find something for them.

The Bertrands’ situation isn’t unique, the city says. Ishbel Solvason, executive director of the city’s social-housing registry, says there are another 110 or so applicants with health problems.

Breaking the rules and bumping the Bertrands to the top of the list doesn’t address the real problem of inadequate social housing, Bay councillor and mayoral candidate Alex Cullen wrote this week to the Citizen’s editor. The argument was repeated in another letter to the editor by Aaron Burry, general manager of the city’s community and social services.

Who says breaking the rules would address the problem? I’m just saying breaking the rules would show some compassion.

Says Watson: “The last thing that’s needed is buck-passing and finger-pointing. These people need help. … I think (the Bertrand case) yells out, ‘Use some good, common sense.’

internet site reference: LINK


Written by thecanadianheadlines

January 25, 2010 at 7:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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