London, Ont., woman says housing co-op tenants threatened with homelessness

Tolpuddle Housing Co-op at 380 Adelaide St. N. in London, Ont. via Google Maps

Jo Dee Phoenix received a letter under her doorway on May 14, but dated May 9, saying she had until noon on Fri., May 22 to provide necessary documents or she would lose her rent-geared-to-income subsidy, which allows her to afford her unit at Tolpuddle Housing Co-op.

The City of London says it’s communicated to housing providers that the deadline should be extended while the co-op in question said it’s heard no such thing.

“They’re threatening me with homelessness if I don’t do what they command and break federal and provincial directives to go out into the community to collect banking and income tax information,” Phoenix said.

The province announced March 16 that it is suspending all new eviction notices until further notice in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak that has infected hundreds across the country.

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An email to Global News late Thursday evening from the province noted that while the annual review package deadlines have not been altered as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, some of the documentation requested by Tolpuddle is not required by law.

Phoenix also alleged that similar letters were sent to other Londoners receiving the RGI subsidy, which in most cases sets the rent at a subsidized unit at 30 per cent of a household’s total monthly income.

“It’s not just Tolpuddle Co-op we’re talking about. We’re talking about co-ops in London, and there’s many, that received that letter. So we’re talking about hundreds of people.”

Phoenix believed the deadline for the annual review package that she fills out to maintain the subsidy — which is administered and delivered municipally but governed provincially under the provincial Housing Services Act (HSA) — was extended as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, noting that among the required documents is her 2019 Notice of Assessment from the Canada Revenue Agency and that federal tax deadlines have been extended.

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“Free tax clinics are not up and running. The library that has access to free computers and internet are, everybody knows, closed. So I’m unable to get the necessary information. So I can’t I physically can’t complete the annual review.”

Even the city seemed to be in a state of confusion over legislation, as an email from London’s Housing Access Centre to Phoenix on May 15 stated, “we are still checking to see what the legislation is regarding annual reviews.”

A spokesperson with the province confirmed to Global News late May 21 that there is no extension to the deadline due to the pandemic, but he also noted that not all of the documents the housing co-op is asking for are required by law.

“It is important to note that the HSA does not require that a Notice of Assessment… be provided as part of the annual review process and that the extension to the income tax filing deadline should not impact the annual review process,” said Conrad Spezowka.

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Earlier that afternoon, the City of London’s acting managing director of housing, Kevin Dickins, said “all providers have been asked to defer the annual review process until after the pandemic ends” and claimed that in this particular case, “subsequent communication allowing for a delay amid COVID-19 was never communicated to the tenants from the provider.”

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However, Tolpuddle coordinator Stephanie Fizell told Global News “the traditional deadline is April 30 each year” and she has “received no additional direction in a change to the standard deadline.”

The letter Phoenix says was slipped under her doorway on May 14, 2020. via Jo Dee Phoenix

Tolpuddle has 132 units, 99 of which are occupied by renters who receive the RGI subsidy, according to Fizell.

It’s among 64 social housing providers the City of London works with, according to Dickins.

“We’ve been having bi-weekly meetings connecting through written correspondence as well with all the providers just to exercise patience, some flexibility,” Dickins said.

“To our knowledge, all our providers know — including Tolpuddle — that nobody’s rent is going up during COVID, there’ll be no evictions during  COVID, no one’s going to be displaced. And we’ve been sharing that message directly with a few tenants that have called from from a number of providers who who may be in this position as well.”

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In an interview with Global News Radio 980 CFPL talk show host Craig Needles, Dickins was asked explicitly about the possibility of any RGI subsidies being revoked at this time.

“So to be very clear: there is no danger of anyone losing their RGI status in the midst of this pandemic,” Needles began. “Is that accurate by what you know?”

“That is 100 per cent accurate,” Dickins responded.

“In fact, we’ve had those conversations with tenants directly, those that have called as well as with the social housing providers, including Tolpuddle.”

But in an email to Global News, Fizell suggested Tolpuddle was not planning to make changes as a result of the pandemic.

“I have received no additional direction in a change to the standard deadline. It is my understanding that legislation surrounding housing subsidy has not changed due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

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She added that “members have been advised to contact the office, if they are having any difficulties in collecting” the information required for the annual review packages.

“Tolpuddle, during my 10 years, has always and will continue to assist members that have trouble completing their annual review packages.”

Additionally, Phoenix also raised concerns about the documentation requested of her and the tone of the letter itself. Among the documents requested in the letter is “proof of tenant insurance.”

“I want to stress proof of renters’ insurance has never been, is not now, a requirement of my RGI subsidy from the province,” she said.

In an email to Global News, Fizell said Tolpuddle requires the completion of the application provided by the city; a copy of income statements, benefit card, or pay stubs; two months of bank statements; and the annual notice of assessment.

Fizell said if members haven’t contacted the office or handed in the completed package, the co-op will “re-request the information but also supplies support completing the package.”

The City of London’s website lists required documents for applications for “social housing rent-geared-to-income housing,” but renters’ insurance is not among the documents listed.

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Renters insurance is also not listed anywhere in the Guide to Rent-Geared-to-Income Assistance from the Housing Policy Branch of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

When asked about whether or not that insurance was required by law, Dickins said it’s a “good practice to have renters’ insurance.”

“Certainly if there was ever an issue with damage or fire or something like that, then we would want to make sure that people are well taken care of and that they have the proper insurance in place.”

Tolpuddle was previously the site of a large fire that left 12 families displaced and resulted in $800,000 in damage in July 2018.

Ministry spokesperson Conrad Spezowka said like a Notice of Assessment, proof of tenant insurance is not required as part of the annual review process.

However, he noted that under the Residential Tenancies Act, a resident can have their occupancy terminated for “substantially interfering with a lawful right, privilege or interest of the co-op” and a co-op could potentially cite a member’s “failure to obtain insurance” as a reason for terminating the occupancy, but in that instance the cooperative would need to file an application with the Landlord and Tenant Board, which would have final say.

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Spezowka also noted that if under an RGI review, a household is found to no longer be eligible for the subsidy, the household must be provided with a written notice that “must include a statement of the decision, that a household may request a review, information about how to request a review and what the deadline is and a statement of the reasons for the decision.”

Phoenix said she’d like a correction and apology from Tolpuddle as well as a “definitive date as to when the annual review packages will be extended to.”

“I would expect Tolpuddle to deliver a notice in the same manner that this notice was delivered to me, reassuring me that the information was incorrect. They apologize for threatening me and so on,” she said.

“But there’s been no, no communication or clarification from Tolpuddle. As a matter of fact, they diverted to the city and said that the city had told them that there was no extension… there’s been no assistance and everybody in a position of authority, they’re all pointing the fingers at each other.

“Myself and my neighbours and other members of other co-ops are going to sleep tonight worried about if they and their families are going to be homeless on Monday.”

Phoenix said she knows she won’t lose her subsidy, but she wants Tolpuddle to “reassure every single person who received that letter.”

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Click to play video: 'Toronto tenants fear eviction due to COVID-19'
Toronto tenants fear eviction due to COVID-19

— with a file from Global News’ David Lao

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