The Alliance to End Homelessness, in concert with the City of Ottawa and the Eastern Ontario Landlords Organization, has begun an Ottawa Housing Blitz to find 100 affordable-housing units for people in need before October.
The goal is to ease the burden of the city’s housing and homelessness emergency, which was declared in January.
The alliance is working with the municipal government and the landlords association to match people in need of housing with rental units and rent supports, priorizing those experiencing homelessness “who qualify for subsidies, are ready to be housed and are currently looking for housing.”
In Ottawa, there are 12,000 people on the city’s affordable-housing waitlist, many of whom are not currently homeless. About 8,000 individuals in the city are experiencing homelessness, according to Katie Burkholder Harris, the AEHO‘s executive director.
“There’s kind of a constant inflow of new people who have lost housing, generally due to the fact that our city’s (increasingly) just not being affordable,” said Burkholder Harris.
“Homelessness has only been around for 30 to 40 years. This is a relatively new challenge,” she said. “In terms of math, homelessness and people not having a roof over their head, that’s very much linked and you can see the numbers — when we stopped building affordable housing, we started to see an increase in homelessness.”
The COVID-19 pandemic will likely lead to a higher vacancy rate this fall in Ottawa, according to Mayor Jim Watson.
“We’re launching this housing blitz now to capitalize on the opportunity and house up to 100 households experiencing homelessness before a second wave (of COVID-19) hits,” he said in a statement.
Some of the campaign’s publicity messaging refers to the goal as finding housing for 100 people, though the number of people living in 100 households could be significantly greater than that.
“Ultimately, landlords house people, we have people who need housing — that’s the bottom line,” said Burkholder Harris.
According to affordable housing advocates, homelessness has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Housing is a human right and a public health issue. COVID-19 is exacerbating our housing crisis and it’s more important than ever to help our most vulnerable residents find a safe place to live,” said Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, city council liaison for housing and homelessness, in a statement.
COVID-19 has affected the city’s pre-existing housing crisis, creating an unstable situation that is being repeated in cities across the country, according to Burkholder Harris.
She said that around one in five Canadians may not have been able to pay the rent since the COVID-19 lockdowns in March due to losing their job or seeing a significant reduction in their income.
The passing of contentious Bill 184 in Ontario worsens the issue “by fast-tracking the eviction process” and families across the city were facing eviction notices on Aug. 1, said Bader Abu-Zahra, East Ottawa chair for ACORN Ottawa, the local branch of the anti-poverty advocacy group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.
“We have a family of five people and they got the eviction notice on Friday. So, for the whole weekend they were stressed trying to find a placement (but) they couldn’t find any,” said Abu-Zahra.
“We have (another) family of nine, plus the father and mother. They are paying $1,450 for their rent. And now, they are threatened with eviction and they cannot find anything less than $2,000 a month to lease.”
The importance of getting people into safe and reliable housing during the pandemic is a public health issue as well as a housing one, said Burkholder Harris.
“I’ve heard really heartbreaking stories of people who are scared to go to the shelters because they don’t want their friends to get sick or they don’t want to get sick themselves. And I’ve heard directly from somebody who said, ‘I know that it could be more dangerous if I sort of add to the numbers in shelters,’ because it’s just really hard in a congregate setting to protect a person from the virus,” she said.
The East Ottawa ACORN chapter is considering a phone campaign in support of the Ottawa Housing Blitz, said Abu-Zahra. The group is also currently involved in housing-related campaigns that push for inclusionary zoning, vacancy control, rent freezes and a rent forgiveness program in the capital.
“Nobody can go it alone on this. We need every partner who’s involved in this game to be able to help have people with a clear-eyed view of the goal,” said Burkholder Harris. “It is to prevent, it is to reduce and it is to end homelessness in a country as wealthy and fortunate as Canada.”
Landlords interested in participating in the initiative can fill out a survey at ottawahousingblitz.ca.