From the May 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard
There is no shortage of housing in Toronto. There are apartment blocks in abundance, sub-divisions in profusion, and gimmicks to induce the unwary signing of leases. The radio roars the advantages of “graceful living” in this area and the beauties of countryside combined with easy transportation to downtown Toronto, with a dash thrown in from the real estate agents to sell “your home" through them, fast . . . fast . . . fast . . .
Truly a paradise—empty houses, flats and apartments. Unbelievable to the British Worker. True, nevertheless. Just listen, inspect and you are “sold.” Then comes the snag. How much can you afford for a down payment? There is now a housing problem in Toronto . . . or is it a poverty problem? If you haven’t got the cash then you can’t sign the lease, purchase the house on a heavy mortgage, or take that wonderful trip to New York which was promised to you, just for signing on the dotted line.
Yet the large sub-divisions on the outskirts of Toronto which have been developed could be a foretaste of what housing could be like under Socialism when the profit motive has been removed. The houses are designed to suit the needs of families, whether large or small, and are fitted with all the necessary up-to-date equipment, such as refrigerators, stoves, dishwashers, washing machines and dryers. There are several architectural plans to choose from. Each tastefully designed house has a garage, a basement recreation room and is fronted by a large lawn. Within a short distance are the shopping plazas and supermarkets.
Owning their houses is an ambition of many workers, but many of those who through a lifetime of sacrifice attempt to accomplish this, find that when their mortgage is due for maturity there is a lump sum payment or a bonus to pay. They failed to read the small print in the contract and could not afford to employ a lawyer. Often they are forced to sell quickly at a loss before the mortgagor forecloses. Or a fresh mortgage can be obtained at considerably more than was originally owing. This bonus system sometimes prevents the worker ever being able to pay off the mortgage and he never “owns” his house. The mortgage set-up in Canada is big business and sometimes a worker who proudly persuades himself that he owns his house after making the down payment, loses his life savings. Legally, of course. Forty-nine per cent. of all mortgages in Canada are owned by lawyers.
In the downtown area called Cabbage Town are concentrated the slums of Toronto, although they also exist in other parts of the city. Here one sees the hovels that pass for human habitation, hovels without adequate heat, light or air, fetid, stinking and disease-creating. Houses that are terraced, without inside toilets, and with an outside toilet sometimes serving as many as a dozen houses. Houses that are tumbling down, with paper hanging off the walls, broken steps, crumbling walls, and some rat and termite infested. Hovels that are rented to the most depressed section of the working class, those on relief and those who are unemployed. Landlords are unwilling to repair even if repair would help the condition at all, but in most cases they are beyond any patching up. Exorbitant rents are charged; each time an increase in “welfare” payments is received, the landlord puts up the rent.
In Metropolitan Toronto in the year 1961 there were seven evictions taking place daily. Families are split up, children put into the care of the Children’s Aid Society, and mothers at their wits end what to do.
In Northern Ontario on the Indian Reservation at Red Lake (and other reservations, too) the housing conditions of the Indians are positively unbelievable. There are wooden shacks with a floor area of 18 ft. by 22 ft. housing as many as twenty-two human beings for eating, sleeping and living. Wood stoves heat the hovels, and wretched rags are used for covers. Sometimes these people have only the clothes in which they stand and hunger and starvation are permanent features of their miserable existence. The Indian’s income is approximately £49 a year to keep alive on, plus whatever can be obtained from trapping, which is generally very little.
In the rare instance where an Indian has been able to obtain a job for any period, he is not usually any better off because he shares whatever he possesses with any or all of his tribe who are in greater need than he. Consequently, when he gets a little better house to live in, he is willing to, and does, share it with others of his tribe. The result is overcrowding.
All this exists in a country where an old-fashioned but structurally sound and perfectly usable City Hall is to be pulled down and a new stream-lined one built at a cost of approximately $27 million. Is any comment needed?
Sid & Gladys Catt