‘We are trying to explain … we don’t make this kind of money,’ says couple who won, then lost, a housing lottery

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Sarah Bankuti was eight months pregnant and had been hospitalized for a health scare when she got news that should have changed her growing family’s life for the better: they had been randomly selected out of thousands of people to apply to move into a new affordable rental building in Regent Park.

Toronto Community Housing, they were told by email, had pulled their names in a housing lottery of sorts and if they cleared the next round of paperwork they would move out of their cramped one bedroom in the east end and into a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in March and pay just $1,358 a month.

It was welcome news during a frightening time. They were in Michael Garron Hospital and she had been hooked to multiple monitors because their baby girl hadn’t moved for two days. Then they read the Oct. 26 email.

“The baby started kicking right away,” says Bankuti, 33. “We were so happy, because we couldn’t believe we got picked.”

This wasn’t their only reason to celebrate. Her husband, John Bankuti, 36, started a new job with Canada Post in August. His last job was as a dog-walker. He is now a full-time relief letter carrier. Training started in mid-August and in the fall he received a minor bump in overtime pay as well as hundreds in bonus pay for delivering flyers and Christmas catalogues.

They’d entered the lottery on a whim in September, filling out a simple one page form that outlined the maximum gross income to be considered. After winning, they filled out detailed paperwork, attached pay stubs from September and October and planned for the future.

But that elation didn’t last. Bankuti got another email from TCH early in December informing them the pay stubs they submitted showed their combined gross income was roughly $15,000 above the $65,184 threshold for a 3-bedroom unit and they were being pulled from the list. There is no option to appeal.

The couple insists that even with his new job their combined annual gross income, particularly because she was going on maternity leave, is not guaranteed to exceed the threshold. They believe their gross income will actually be less, they told the Star.

“We would be fine with it if they denied us for a valid reason. We are not unreasonable people,” says Bankuti, who works as a nanny and spoke with the Star on Wednesday, two days before a scheduled C-section. “I find it impossible that there is no appeal process,” for people whose income is not guaranteed, or who could have a sudden surge in income at different times of the year, she says.

“If I knew that I would have told my husband to not get this job.”

A full-time relief carrier, Canada Post confirmed, at that early salary level makes at least roughly $42,500 gross each year. The slips Bankuti submitted also included an inflated gross of several hundred dollars from the extra hours and flyer delivery. Her pay slips showed she made a gross income of about $27,060 by the end of November. Together, even without his extra pay, that still puts them over the threshold, but her salary is never guaranteed, she says, and on maternity leave she’ll take in about 55 per cent of whatever her weekly income is.

They reached out to Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s office and a representative from that office contacted TCH to find out if appeals were an option. They were told it was not but that housing staff considered everything they were sent.

Toronto Community Housing, who had reviewed their pay stubs multiple times including additional ones they were sent in November, says people are judged on what they are making at the time of the application and those slips clearly show they do not qualify.

The couple have offered to provide TCH with past and future tax returns, additional payslips and letters of employment to defend their case — but those offers have been rejected.

A spokesperson for the housing corporation told the Star that there is no formal appeal process and overtime and bonuses are factored into the equation.

“All applicants are assessed for eligibility and must meet the income criteria for the program at the time of application; past and future earning potential is not considered,” says Daniele Gauvin, a senior communications adviser with the housing corporation in an email. “The documents submitted by the Bankuti household showed that their household income exceeded the eligibility limit for a three-bedroom unit at 110 River Street.”

Bankuti met with the Star in her narrow one-bedroom apartment near Gerrard St. E. and Greewood Ave. She and her husband pay $1,350 a month and share the space with his 4-year-old daughter Gwendolyn, who lives with them part time, and a mini-dachshund cross named Tiberius.

When the little girl stays with them she sleeps on a pullout couch in the living room. Tiberius and his bed are small but the narrow layout means he, the bed and the stuffed shark he sleeps with are underfoot. The baby will sleep in the bedroom, currently packed with a bassinet, a double bed and a chest of drawers from Ikea that serves as a changing table.

Bankuti bought it after Googling “how to have a baby in a small area.”

What would have been their new home was 110 River St., a brand new 29-storey building in the heart of the largely redeveloped neighbourhood of Regent Park.

With close to 2,780 people eligible to apply for 75 units they never thought they had a chance at winning and, they say, honestly believed that even with his new job they were not guaranteed to exceed $65,184.

In a city facing a severe lack of affordable housing the lottery the couple entered was framed as one way that people trying to survive on lower incomes could get ahead, which in Toronto means skipping the centralized wait list.

The current wait list for subsidized housing in Toronto — which includes Toronto Community Housing, co-operatives and private non-profit housing — is close to 99,000 households and about one-third of those waiting are seniors.

The River St. building is close to a new recreation centre and the TTC, and the rent is fixed. Three-bedroom units are $1,358, two-bedrooms are $1,141 and one-bedroom units cost $962. Utilities are included.

Average market rents for a three-bedroom purpose-built rentals in the Census Metropolitan Area is $1,633, according to data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Those figures use occupied units — landlords can charge what they want for newly empty units — and don’t factor in pricier options like condominiums. Research firm Urbanation recently published a report showing that the average cost of renting a studio condominium averaged $1,800 and a two-bedroom condominium went for about $2,700.

The Bankuti family has been on a wait list for a two-bedroom in co-operative housing for about a year but has been told they could be waiting anywhere from two to five years.

He says they haven’t given up entirely on pleading their case to get into an affordable home. “We are trying to explain in an open way that we don’t make this kind of money.”

For now he is looking forward to meeting their new daughter and working for a company he respects. She is deeply concerned about whether she will be able to take on work after the baby is born. Two children she regularly cared for are moving, upsetting her plans to bring her new baby along when she’s caring for them, she says.

Both know they can’t afford to move.

“Two bedrooms are so expensive now and especially because I am going to be on maternity leave we literally can’t afford anything else,” she says.

With files from Donovan Vincent

Emily Mathieu is a Toronto-based reporter covering affordable and precarious housing. Follow her on Twitter: @emathieustar

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Opposition parties demand Trudeau explain his plan to end U.S. tariffs

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It’s a political long-shot, but opposition parties are teaming up to find out more about what Ottawa is doing to get the Trump administration to lift its tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.

Conservative and New Democrat MPs are calling for an emergency meeting of the Standing Committee on International Trade to consider a motion that would demand the prime minister appear before the committee to answer questions about Canada’s tariff strategy.

In a letter to the committee’s clerk, Christine Lefrance, opposition members say they want Justin Trudeau to testify before Parliament rises for the holiday break, and to also present a plan to bring the tariffs to an immediate end.

« The Prime Minister failed to ensure tariffs were removed prior to signing the new NAFTA trade agreement and businesses across the country have already been forced to cut orders, reduce shifts and lay off workers, » the letter says.

« Canadians are now facing a competitiveness crisis that the Trudeau government cannot afford to ignore any longer. »

Conservative and NDP MPs are extremely unlikely to get their Christmas wish; the Liberals have the majority on the committee and would have to vote in favour of inviting the prime minister to testify.

The last time a sitting prime minister appeared before a committee was in 2006. Then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper testified at a Senate committee to discuss his plans to alter the way the red chamber operates.

U.S. President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum on June 1, under a rarely used national security provision known as Section 232.

Trudeau, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and senior members of the Prime Minister’s Office have been lobbying the Trump administration to end the tariffs ever since. The government also imposed reciprocal tariffs on U.S. goods as a way to pressure the Americans to end their tariff program.

Ottawa had hoped to see the tariffs lifted before Canada signed the new NAFTA agreement, which happened this past Friday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina. However, Canadian lobbying efforts and pressure tactics have not been successful so far.

Canada has launched a legal challenge of the tariffs in the U.S. court system and before the World Trade Organization.

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Toronto police chief must explain why he debunked fears of a serial killer in the Gay Village

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Mark Saunders needs to explain himself to this city.

He is not only Toronto’s police chief, top of the investigative and administrative chain. He’s also a crucial community leader.

We look to him for reassurance and forthrightness in times of trouble. Sometimes even pre-emptively, when the trouble is not widely known or suspected.

Except there were strong suspicions — at least in the Gay Village community — that a serial killer had for years been preying on homosexuals who had vanished from their usual haunts, from their homes, from their families.

And there were clearly some common denominators identified by detectives investigating what was then believed to be five missing men. That was evident in documents unsealed by the courts this week — heavily redacted applications to support search warrants indicating police had already zeroed in on Bruce McArthur as a suspect.

In the information to obtain, filed by Det.-Const. Joel Manherz in an October 2017 affidavit, he wrote: “Clearly there is circumstantial evidence to suggest that McArthur could have been involved in the disappearance of (Andrew) Kinsman and possibly four other men, too.”

Over subsequent months, police tailed McArthur, a self-employed landscaper, hither and yon. They watched him as he worked at various properties across the GTA. They tracked his meanderings to coffee shops and restaurants. They had eyes on his vehicle. They covertly entered and searched his apartment, accessing and cloning his computer digital files.

The missing men had specific commonalities: All middle-aged with facial hair; most of South Asian or Middle Eastern ethnicity; each self-identified as “bears” in the gay community, an insider term for a “larger, hairier man who projects an image of rugged masculinity,” according to the documents.

Every one of them — ultimately the missing extended to eight males — had frequented the Black Eagle Bar on Church St. and every one of the five had disappeared on a holiday: Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Labour Day, Pride Weekend.

The police chief would have known all of this when, on Dec. 8, 2017, during an hour-long news conference, he dispelled escalating rumours of a serial killer at work. “We follow evidence,” Saunders said in response to a direct question about the serial scenario. “The evidence is telling us that is not the case right now.”

That was the day after investigators had surreptitiously entered, for the second time in a week, McArthur’s apartment.

Parsing Saunder’s language, he told the literal truth. Investigators did not have actionable evidence to support the belief that anyone had been murdered. No bodies, no forensics. But they damn well had their suspicions. And they had a distinct suspect.

Police are not obliged to publicize their suspicions; indeed, they often bend over backwards to avoid doing so. There may be investigative reasons for that, although police departments long ago dropped the posture of withholding information for the purpose of protecting an ongoing investigation lest a suspect be tipped off.

Putting the public at risk is no longer tolerated. That was one of the lessons learned from the fiasco of the “balcony rapist” investigation in the mid-’80s when women who matched the description of the rapist’s preferred victim — he operated in a particular downtown area — had not been warned. They were essentially used as bait.

The woman known as Jane Doe — his last victim, raped at knifepoint in her apartment — subsequently and successfully sued Toronto police, although it took a full decade after she secured the legal right to sue the department for her case to be resolved. In a scathing indictment of the police force and its officers, Justice Jean McFarland slammed Toronto police for being “utterly negligent” in the way they handled the balcony rapist probe. McFarland condemned police for failing to warn women about a serial rapist who’d already been identified, ruling it was a violation of Jane Doe’s charter rights, fuelled by systemic sexist discrimination and a complete failure to understand how the crime of rape affects women.

Toronto police were ordered to pay Jane Doe $220,000 in damages and $2,000 a year for the next 15 years.

An investigator involved with Project Prism told the Star on Thursday that the two cases — the balcony rapist, the serial murderer of gay men — have little in common. With the rapist, there were victims who’d been interviewed and a suspect who’d been identified. With alleged serial killer McArthur — arrested on Jan. 18, 2018, ultimately charged with eight counts of first-degree murder — the 66-year-old was very much on the police radar but there were no victims to interview, no solid case to be made for murder and, allegedly, no links among the victims. No concrete evidence.

Yet, as more information surfaces, it becomes harder to take Saunders on his word — the words that came out of his mouth some 10 months ago. At the very least, the police chief was withholding; at the very worst, he gave false assurance to the gay community about a suspect serial offender still at large. McArthur was clearly a “person of interest” even if, as the police affidavit states, “no evidence currently exists to suggest culpability in the commission of the offense.”

Saunders was unavailable for comment on Thursday. But police spokesperson Meaghan Gray earlier told the Star that the documents detailed officers’ “theories” about what may have happened, with no evidence to support them in a way that would have justified Saunders going public with suspicions. This, despite Manherz having noted of the five missing men, in the December affidavit: “At this point, I believe they may all be related.”

It may be true that Saunders was being circumspect. However, the chief went significantly beyond that. He expressly debunked.

I cannot call the chief a liar. But I will say he deliberately misled because investigators were following the evidence and they did have reasonable cause to suspect a worst case scenario.

For that the chief owes the gay community, the entire city, an explanation. If not an apology.

Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

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8 maps that explain Quebec’s surprise election results

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A lot of us are still scratching our heads at Monday night’s election results.

The Coalition Avenir Québec ended up with a much larger majority than anyone was expecting.

Support for both the Liberals and the Parti Québécois dropped well below their historic baselines, while small left-wing Québec Solidaire broke out of its Montreal enclave.

In order to get a better sense of why this happened we dove into the data and produced a few maps that help tell the story of the election.

These maps may look a little funky, but they’ve been designed so that each ridings appears as a hexagon of equal size.

This should make it easier to pick out geographic and socio-economic patterns.  

In this electoral map of Quebec, ridings are shown as hexagons of equal size. This gives a more accurate representation of each riding’s importance. (Marc Lajoie / Radio-Canada)

CAQ: carried by the francophone non-immigrant vote

One of the biggest factors that explains the CAQ victory was the party’s appeal among French-speaking Quebecers.

This map shows a high concentration of CAQ voters in ridings that have high concentrations of francophones, particularly in central Quebec and south of Quebec City.

They performed better in these ridings than in 2014.

On the other hand, the CAQ did poorly in ridings with high numbers of recent immigrants. This, perhaps, is not surprising given its controversial campaign promise to cut immigration levels by 20 per cent. 

The party performed worse in these riding than in 2014.

CAQ: Support among trade workers

Given that the CAQ is a centre-right party, it is perhaps surprising to see how well it did in ridings that had high numbers of people working in the trades (welders, electricians, etc.).

Many of these ridings, though, are located in Quebec’s industrial belt, east of Montreal. The recent rise of an entrepreneurial culture in these ridings has coincided with increased support for the CAQ, a phenomenon we explored in more detail here.

There was only a weak correlation in 2014 between CAQ vote-share and presence of trade workers in a riding. That correlation became much more pronounced in 2018.

Québec Solidaire: for the young and precarious 

The left-leaning party surprised many people by winning four seats outside of Montreal and in areas not commonly associated with progressive politics.

One big factor that explains this breakout performance is the party’s support among young people.  

QS won two seats in Quebec City and one in western Quebec. These urban centres have a larger proportion of people aged 15 to 29, as this map shows.

QS also demonstrated that its promises — which include free education, more public transit and universal dental care — resonate in ridings where many people are struggling to make ends meet.

This map demonstrates there is a correlation between the number of low-income households (as measured by the low-income cut-off measure) and QS vote-share. In other words, more low-income homes, more votes for QS. 

(Darcy Hunter)

The party did well, too, in ridings with higher numbers of part-time workers. There could be some overlap here, as part-time workers tend to be young and less wealthy.

Liberals: still strong among Anglos and immigrants

The Liberal Party has long been the go-to choice for Quebec’s anglophones, and that didn’t change on Monday. But voter turnout in anglophone-heavy ridings dropped significantly, which hurt the party’s popular vote score.

Liberals have also, traditionally, been able to count on the support of immigrants. Our data suggests that trend held true in this election.

In fact, the Liberals improved their performance in ridings with large immigrant populations, compared to 2014. 

But their support worsened in largely francophone ridings, which represent a far greater number of seats in the National Assembly.   

Methodology

To make these maps, the CBC compared election results in 2014 and 2018 to socio-demographic data from Quebec’s chief returning officer (DGEQ), which is based on the 2016 census.

We calculated the Pearson correlation between each party’s vote share and about 50 selected census variables across all ridings. The maps above show the variables with the highest correlations. Note that no variable had a perfect positive or negative correlation with vote results. For example, the strongest correlation coefficient, of -0.87, was found between Liberal vote share and proportion of francophones.

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