Sunday, November 8, 2009

Conversion to Transitional Housing

This elderly blue-clad apartment building on Holland Avenue just north of the Queensway has been purchased by the Ottawa Mission for use as transitional housing. Acording to Ms Vicki's neighborhood blog the Mission intends for its clientele to occupy about half the units. She does not identify who will occupy the other half - presumably it is market rentals.

I support the move to transitional and supportive housing. I strongly feel they need close supervision and much more "tough love" than laissez-faire.

I have three "second hand" experiences with apartment buildings undergoing similar changes. In one, my aunt was a long term tennant, along with mostly elderly people in a very stable market-rental building. A social agency bought the building and moved in a "few" clients graduating from mental health programs. Under the new owners, the building quickly fell into disrepair, the hallways dirty, vomit in the elevators, smelly stiarways, people ("weirdos") hanging about the entrances. The fire alarms went off 5 times a night. A special client was found to be doing it. He was not removed but counselled to take his medicine. The exodus of the middle class tennants accelerated, eventually my aunt moved too.

The second story is from Toronto, the Crombie Town area near St Lawrence Market. It was a mixed income building. My relative found it safe and a great place to live. Then the City started closing out Regent's Park, a notoriously bad housing project, for rebuilding. The mixed income nature of other buildings was "waived" to find room for the displaced Regent's tennants. The balanced mix of incomes, employment status, etc was lost. Security guards appeared. Taxis refused to pick up residents at the door; later they refused to drop off residents near the doors. Pizza deliveries stopped, it was too dangerous. Long term tennants fled. Gangs of menacing males clustered around the doors.

The third incidence is an elderly female aunt who lived in a high rise senior's housing building in downtown Ottawa. She enjoyed it, and the nearby Legion. Then the City (?) moved in a younger crowd. There were noise problems, rowdy parties, spaced out tennants, rumours of drug deals. She died before she could move out.

These three exemplars in my life will outweigh any number of unknown happy cohabitations in buildings. They will influence how I read and interpret "statistics" about the success (or not) of transitional and supportive housing. I note/recall stories I read in the MSM or blogs about crime in similar housing projects whether on Scott Street or in LA. As a result of these influences, I still support these housing measures but that support is dependent on strict on-site supervision. Unfortunately, such supervision will wax and wane with social work trends/fads/philosophies and the leadership (which changes over time) of the agencies involved. The housing never goes away. It does make me nervous.


  1. There is actually a public meeting being planned by the Hintonburg Community Association and the West Wellington Community
    Association to discuss the issue. Councillor Leadman will be on hand as well as a representative from the Ottawa Mission will be there as well to answer any questions.

    Information about the meeting should be handed out by the community associations shortly. The
    meeting is to be held on Nov. 17 at Fisher Park School from 7 p.m. to 9

  2. I find it interesting how you consistently talk about how 'low-income' the Dalhousie ward is and how it is regularly forgotten in city planning because it is a low-income neighbourhood etc. You expect more for your community despite its perceived economic status. Yet some of the people who inhabit your community and low-income communities in general live with mental health issues, addiction issues etc. The people are what make up the community. If your expectation and hope is that the NCC and City start to treat all neightbourhoods hope is that you will remember that the people who inhabit our neighbourhood deserve the same.

  3. Having represented someone with a mental disability at the Landlord Tenant Board just last week, I find your comments misleading and unfair to those "graduating from mental health facilities". Some of the so-called problems you have identified as moving in with these graduates are not those that necessarily follow those with mental disabilities. Rather the disrepair, the mess and the increase in "disturbance" can be attributed to our community dropping the ball in ensuring all of us are taken care of. Perhaps that is where the landlords of these living spaces can step in to identify how to help. It is a symptom of people leading individualistic lives without caring for their neighbours. People who face challenges that we have no idea about may only need some guidance from a service agency like the Canadian Mental Health Association to get them along and we need to recognize our part in helping out. It is not enough just to walk by and scoff at the mess. I agree with the comment above that it is the people, and not the buildings that make our community.

  4. "I support the move to transitional and supportive housing. I strongly feel they need close supervision and much more "tough love" than laissez-faire." -- that pretty much sums up my feelings on the subject. I'm not a fan of build-it-abandon-the-residents housing. Nor do I favour putting all our housing eggs in one neighborhood, either as mega-projects or multiple smaller units.