Thursday, January 29, 2015

Apartment Hunting and the Ontario Disability Support Program.

I am an 800-lb. gorilla, and you ain't fooling me no more.

Louis Shalako

The other day I was speaking to a young man. He is thirty-three years old. He works full time for a prominent Canadian automotive retailer. He makes twelve bucks an hour give or take a few cents.

He was lining up in front of the food bank. He had broken up with his partner, who had a couple of daughters in school or working. They’re still sleeping in the same bed, as he is currently trying to save up first and last month’s rent to get his own place. I asked him about noise, one of my petty little interests these days.

He snorted.

“We can hear the next-door lady in the bedroom beside us, snoring, coughing, and basically, her pillow is a foot from our pillows….” And the walls are obviously very thin.

Twelve bucks an hour full-time is better than minimum wage. Some would say he is lucky, to be relatively intelligent, able-bodied, and to have a job at all. In some sense, they are of course right.

One of the reasons welfare (Ontario Works) and disability benefits (Ontario Disability Support program, Canada Pension Disability, etc.) are so low in this country is because everyone knows about them. Minimum-wage workers might become understandably upset if they figured out a disabled person in ‘otherwise similar circumstances,’ perhaps age, marital status and skill-set for example, is markedly better off than someone employed for minimal wages full-time. We get about the same things, food, shelter and clothing (of a kind) without having to put in forty hours under some scab employer to get it.*

The Province of Ontario recently did away with the Moving Benefit, which clients could only get once every two years; with a maximum benefit of $899.00.

I am presently looking for another place to live. The reason I want to leave the building I presently occupy is noise.

It’s not a bad apartment unit.

It’s not a bad neighbourhood. They’re not bad people. I just can’t take the noise. The walls are very thin.

I’m tired of fighting the guy that lives above me. He works until eleven o’clock p.m. When he comes home, he might have a friend over. He might be hungry and want some grub. The thumping from above can be bad sometimes and not so bad at others. It depends who is there, and if they are drinking, playing the stereo or whatever.

I’m tired of fighting with the lady in the next apartment over barking dogs, I’m tired of going across the hall and politely asking the nice young couple that live there if they would please turn the music down. I’m tired of the people, whom I have never met, on the other side of my bedroom wall, coming home at one a.m. and having a shower, opening and closing closet doors, slamming the bathroom door, etc.

The walls are very thin.

Being the man of action, I went on Kijiji and had a look at ads for one-bedroom apartments.

I went and looked at one—and it’s on the top floor, which is just what I said I was looking for. The building and the apartment look all right—about what one might expect in the price range.

The story gets deeper. They will of course ask about your source of income. The lady told me that they have a ‘one-third rule.’ According to her, the rent must not exceed one-third of your income or they don’t want to rent you a unit.

This is where it gets interesting. When I told her that I was on ODSP, she immediately told me that the rule might be ‘a little bit different’ for me. She asked me to provide ODSP benefit stubs for four months. She also told me, “A lot of ODSP people have their cheques sent to us from the Ministry.” 

(Not a direct quote but without attribution we will paraphrase. – ed.)

Interesting conclusion: neither this landlord, nor my present landlord, would have any kind of moral objections to a disabled person paying 65 % to 70 % of their income in rent. 

There’s more. What they want, is a certified cheque or money order for the last month’s rent. Before I can move in, I must pay the first month’s rent. Sounds simple enough, but I want (as a point of honour) to give sixty days of notice at the other building? (At a later date, I may need another place to live, and the present company owns a number of buildings in town.)

Still sounds simple, right?

My next disability cheque is spoken-for. I need to pay the February rent. If I put a stop on that payment, my present landlord would be a bit irate, even if I explained the circumstances, which would go something like this:

“I need a money order to give to the next landlord, but I have already paid last month’s rent here—is there some reason why I can’t do that, (skip a month and pay the next, even though I have not been officially accepted into the next building) and come back and pay next month’s rent, and then, a month after that, use my next disability cheque to pay the first month’s rent over there?”

I suspect the answer would be, “How do we know that you will come back next month, not stiff us, not force us to go for an eviction, and leave us with a month in arrears, you’re safely out of the building and we are now forced to make a decision…hire a skip tracer, and try and collect through the credit agency or small claims court? Or just let you screw us and forget about it?”

So I'm being profiled, right? Or punished for the crime of some other poor working or disabled slob...right? (We all look the same to you, right?)

Sometimes a simple ‘no’ would suffice, ladies and gentlemen, but there is still more.

While the rents are about the same, in the new building they have electrical meters for each unit. It’s an extra charge. They require tenant insurance for all tenants, that’s an extra charge. My income is low enough on ODSP and the income from my books is still in the small but developing stage—and you know all about how much fun that is (on ODSP) from a prior blog post on that subject.

There are one or two other considerations, but simply telling someone ‘if you don’t like it then why not just move’ doesn’t really take facts, circumstances, needs and capabilities into account.

Simple people give simple answers. One is well advised to think it through, get all the facts, (and I have no idea what tenant’s insurance would cost, nor the electricity) so essentially I am done for the time far as I know, or until we get more information, or something in the equation changes for the positive.

We’re still not done yet.

What, the average reader may ask, is the problem with the ODSP/Ministry sending the rent to the landlord? Even though my credit is good, and I am a responsible adult and not a spoiled brat?

Answer: "Since when did I develop a cognitive disorder...???!!!" 

"Oh, well, Mister Shalako...we're just trying to help you, but if you don't want our help..."

(Yeah, what then, and thanks for the implied threat, incidentally.)

Answer: at some point there may be a noise problem, a bedbug or cockroach problem, an abusive neighbour, and the ODSP social worker will ask certain questions.

“Have you spoken to the landlord, the police, the animal control people, the building superintendent, have you been feeling all right lately, are you sure there really is a problem and you’re not just blowing it all out of proportion, you only just moved in there, etc, etc, etc….ad infinitum, ad nauseam…have you been taking the meds, are you sure you don’t want to speak to nice Mr. doctor-man, etc, etc.”

Here is the truth, ladies and gentlemen: landlords love having disabled residents. They get their cheques every month, straight from the Ministry. The client gets what’s left.

The landlord doesn’t care if you have electricity, they don’t care if you have a phone, or the internet, (essential to my business), they don’t care if you starve or line up three and four times a month at the food bank.

The landlords, in collusion with their government cronies of all political shades and stripes, will do everything to ensure a profit for their shareholders. And they don’t give a rat’s ass what happens to you.

For some reason, the disabled are not well represented among their ranks, although they have a few pets that they trot out from time to time for the photo-opportunity that goes along with every fresh, glowingly-positive and completely bogus policy or program announcement this government makes.

And now you know all about it.

The young man with his twelve dollar an hour wage also faces certain challenges, and I think it’s fair to say that none of us at the lower end of the income scale has it exactly easy.

I would like to know whose interests are truly served when government and commerce, working hand in hand, knowing all the facts, seem determined to make life harder for all those unable to defend themselves and who are completely lacking in effective political representation.

But it must serve somebody somewhere…right?


*Conventional (bouorgeois) wisdom is that we should just be grateful; and keep our mouths shut.

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