Her mother is breaking her sister’s fingers; she’s cringing at the sound.
Laura Fowler, 42, is suddenly transported back to her childhood, a consequence of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Growing up, Fowler learned to put the haunting images behind her. She sailed along, but it all caught up with her when she became pregnant at 25.
The horrors of the past came crashing down when the prospects of becoming a mother were real.
“Violence was a normal part of my life. As a child, all I wore were turtlenecks and long sleeves to cover up the bruises.”
Fowler doesn’t blame her mother for the violence. She suffered from schizophrenia.
But today, Fowler is on disability for her PTSD and back issues. Having a stable and affordable home is extremely important for her mental health, she said.
But she’s been on Toronto’s wait list for subsidized housing for almost seven years. It would alleviate housing costs and expenses for people like Fowler with low incomes.
Roughly 140,000 families are waiting for subsidized housing in Canada. Toronto has the biggest waiting list, with more than 90,000 applications.
According to the Canadian Housing & Renewal Association’s website, wait times range from one to five years for a bachelor unit, seven to 10 years for a one-bedroom, five to 10 years for a two-bedroom, and 10 to 12 years for a three- or four-bedroom.
“It’s a nightmare. The future is so uncertain. And my daughter and my son now are not able to really come and see me because… I really don’t have food to feed them,” Fowler said.
Fowler receives roughly $2,000 a month mostly from Ontario’s disability support program. She also gets a bit from her ex-husband to help with child care.
But paying rent for her one-bedroom apartment in East York, on top of paying for her Wi-Fi and phone bill, leaves Fowler with only $300 a month to support her family.
Fowler has tried everything to get subsided housing that would provide lower rent. “There’s nothing more stressful than trying to find a place to live.”
Because of her mental health issues, the stress can trigger Fowler to go into psychosis.
“If I go psychotic, I could end up out on the streets. I was there one time. I was out on the streets in the transition of trying to find a new apartment. I was in and out of consciousness and I didn’t sleep or eat during that entire time.”
But Fowler’s situation is not an unusual one, said Sharad Kerur, executive Director of Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association.
“I think in general the affordable housing situation in this country is problematic. Provinces are dealing with it in their own way.”
“We don’t have enough programs that are encouraging the building of affordable housing. In Toronto, we have very limited supply of social housing units and we have a very big demand for affordable housing.”
Just this week, Ontario updated their affordable housing strategy. The province announced legislation – to be introduced before the summer break – that would mandate “inclusionary zoning.”
This would force developers to make a certain percentage of their units affordable for people with low incomes.
The province also announced it was drafting a framework for a portable housing benefit that would give people on social assistance the flexibility to choose where they live.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Kerur said.
Overall, the Ontario government says their strategy will cost them $178 million over three years.
But not everyone is happy with the announcement. Experts at Ontario Homebuilders Association worry it could raise the price of homes for other buyers. Essentially, they worry new home buyers are going to be asked to pick up the bill for all those extra affordable housing units.
Ontario’s announcement comes right before the Federal government will table their budget on March 22.
It’s expected to spell out much of Ottawa’s plan to spend billions of dollars on stimulus measures, such as infrastructure promised by Trudeau during his election campaign.
“We are going to be very interested to see what the federal government has to put on the table when they have their budget,” Kerur said.
“They’ve promised 20 billion dollars in social infrastructure. We don’t know what that means. We’ll see what amount comes in to Ontario and then what amount Ontario would hope to provide to municipalities.”
With files from Leslie Young.