Making Room

*Note the names used in this blog entry have been changed to protect the identity of our clients.

While working at CERA, I am continually inspired by the strength of our clients and their abilities to persevere through complex situations. In July 2009, Asma, a single Persian mother of 4, contacted CERA because her landlord in Windsor was threatening to evict her and her family.

Prior to moving to the apartment building, Asma had lived in a neighbourhood in Windsor characterized by poverty and crime. It was a neighbourhood where her disabled child was constantly harassed, and her other children got into fights defending him.

Asma’s husband passed away from cancer 6 years ago. Since then, she has struggled to make ends meet but remained determined to keep her family together.

After repeatedly listening to Asma’s concerns about the neighbourhood she was living in, her friend Darina, invited Asma and her family to live with her in the apartment where she lived. This would allow the two single women to care for their children while continuing to work, a custom common to their culture and beneficial to Asma who works late hours as a custodian. The apartment had 3 bedrooms and was large enough for the women and their children.

In June 2009, Darina’s husband, who was living in Toronto, found employment and asked Darina and her daughter to relocate to Toronto. This left Asma and her children living in the unit but with no rights to occupy it as they were not on the lease. To address this, Asma asked the building’s superintendent if she could apply for membership. The super said that would be fine.

However, when Asma applied, she was as automatically denied membership because the building’s property management company had a minimum income requirement. The property manager said that, because she did not make a minimum of $35,000.00/year, Asma would end up defaulting on her rent. She explained to the manager that she worked as many hours as she could, but she would never be able to make that amount of money. She assured him that she had always paid her rent on time and in full, and that she had excellent landlord references and credit. The property manager maintained that he had made his decision, and that Asma and her family would be evicted.

Deeply concerned for her family’s safety and well being, Asma contacted CERA. CERA staff contacted the property manager to investigate the situation. The manager said that not only would Asma be a financial risk, but that she might not “fit in” with the rest of the building. CERA staff explained the company’s obligations under the Human Rights Code and the implications of the eviction (evicting a family of 4 into homelessness does not even give them the option of transitional housing at a family shelter). Large families are not usually given space at a shelter, but instead are forced live in a motel where nutrition, schooling and safety are potentially compromised.

The following months were filled with fear and anxiety for Asma. She had been in a motel in the past with her family, and was terrified of being in that position again. CERA staff had lengthy conversations with her assuring her that we would do our best not to let the property manager evict her into homelessness.

After it became clear that the property management company would not compromise on its minimum income policy, CERA assisted Asma in filing an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. While this process was underway, a new company took over at the building. The new property manager contacted CERA confused about why Asma had not been added to the lease.

Shortly after this, the new property management company added Asma and her family to the lease.

I will never forget the phone call I received that day from Asma. Her voice was full of joy and relief.

Asma is now living happily – and securely – in the building. She has always paid her rent on time and is happy to help her neighbours while continuing to work full-time and care for her children.

Superhero’s come in all shapes and sizes; this one is 5 feet tall, her skin has an olive glow, her hair is covered paisley patterned fabric, and her name is Asma.

September 23, 2010