Is there a better metaphor for Guelph than Carden Street?
On the west side there’s city hall, Market Square, the original city hall building and a promenade of cute storefronts. Then, on the other side of Wyndham, there’s the mostly empty, underused portion of Guelph Central Station, the back entrance to the Palace, a couple of shops, and the Stationview Apartments.
For as far back as many of us can remember, that’s the way it’s been. Carden East was a blight that we could ignore, or perhaps we would tsk it away and shake our head in judgment as we walk by and see another police car or ambulance sitting there. We all had an opinion about the residents of Carden Street, but we didn’t really have an idea about how to make the situation better. If we ever wanted to.
The issue’s being forced now. The Stationview Apartments are being emptied as a new owner is undoubtedly seeking an opportunity for redevelopment. A blank slate for profit.
Current tenants, who are paying somewhere between $560 and $1,050 per month for rent, are being pressured to move through buyouts and eviction notices, and then they’re cast out into a world where a cheap basement apartment runs you about $1,600 per month. Some residents of the building are gone, others are stuck waiting for E-day because they know Guelph’s got nothing for them.
"Trying to find similar rents in the community is not easily attainable." That’s what Mark Poste, director of housing for Wellington County, told GuelphToday’s Taylor Pace this week in a statement that was maddingly neutral in its language.
There have been a lot of aspersions directed at Wellington County lately, a lot of people blaming them for not buying 90 Carden outright before the new private developer took over. I mean it only cost a relatively small amount: $8 million.
Looking to the county as the one to blame is a game of passing the buck, and so is much of the reaction to the homelessness crisis. Who’s been driving housing prices this high to begin with? Who is building what houses are available right now? Why are our politicians acting like the crisis just happened and hasn’t been decades in the making?
We look at Stationview and see a dive. We blame the people who live there because we see a bad place and it must logically follow that bad people live there, but let’s look at things another way. What if the people at 90 Carden didn’t create their circumstance? What if the collective “we” created it? Is there anywhere else in Guelph where a thousand bucks gets you an apartment?
No, we painted the residents of 90 Carden into a corner and we damn them for it. Plus, whether you want to admit it or not, you’re also now concerned about where the residents will go once the last tenants have been forced from the building. They might set up camp in the woods behind your house. They might be in a tent where you walk your dog along the river.
We’ve become very good at this, forcing people out of makeshift accommodations and forcing them into a world of uncertainty, apathy and unaffordability.
Earlier this summer, the Ministry of Transportation decided that an encampment under the Hanlon in the west end had to be cleared over sudden concerns about safety. The ones doing the evicting though forgot the first and most essential part of safety…
You have to have somewhere to go where you feel safe.
And where are the residents of 90 Carden going? Where will they stay to feel safe? Where can they go if they’re like Beverly St. Laurent, a 60-year-old resident of Stationview who’s living on ODSP? Or Lettie Jones and her family who have spent seven years on the waiting list for social housing, and are going to wait at least another three?
What about the next group of people in other (presently) affordable accommodations? What happens when their landlord realizes that they can add $200, $500, or $1,000 to the monthly rent cheque and their home would still be considered “affordable” in Guelph terms?
What happens when no one can afford to live anywhere in Guelph anymore? What kind of city does that look like? What happens in a community where buildings sit empty because wealthy people are using condos, apartments and houses as a place to park their money?
Earlier this year, the Canadian Housing Statistics Program under Stats Can reported that one in every six houses and condos in Guelph are being bought for investment properties. If these numbers remain unchanged then 3,000 of the 18,000 new units that Guelph has to build to fulfill its housing pledge are being built for the exclusive purpose of making someone money, not making a home.
As for 90 Carden St., who do we appeal to for mercy? Some numbered corporation that won’t answer a phone call or email? The Landlord Tenant Board who’s two years backlogged in cases and almost always favour the ‘L’ over the ‘T’? The local governments who have invested millions in new social housing to their credit, but are essentially bailing out the Titanic with a metal bucket?
In reporting the fall of Saigon, Walter Cronkite said that “we have finally reached the end of the tunnel, and there is no light there.” I think the same can be said of 90 Carden St. Despite its reputation, we are watching one of the last pieces of affordable housing in the city get assimilated into the real estate industrial complex, and we’re pretty powerless to do anything about it.
Assuming we ever wanted to.