This Windsor family says it needs affordable housing now, but doesn't top city's priority list

·4 min read
Mohamad Alshami, left, sits with his wife and their youngest child in the house they rent in Windsor for $1,750 a month. (Darrin DiCarlo/CBC - image credit)
Mohamad Alshami, left, sits with his wife and their youngest child in the house they rent in Windsor for $1,750 a month. (Darrin DiCarlo/CBC - image credit)

Mohamad Alshami and his family need affordable housing now, but say they've been put on a 20-year long wait list.

"It's too hard and I am sad and I am mentally tired thinking all about this stuff," Alshami said through a translator.

"We can't [even] buy good food, it's too expensive," he added.

Four years ago, Alshami, his wife and their nine children moved to Windsor after fleeing war in Syria.

Alshami has multiple medical conditions that prevent him from being able to work, so the family relies on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Child Tax Benefit. In total, their monthly income is about $3,700, and rent consumes about half of that.

Currently, the family pays $1,750 in rent per month — a fee Alshami said is not sustainable.

"I don't have enough [money] by the end of the month to buy food, to buy clothes ... it's not enough," he said.

Alshami said his family applied for affordable housing in 2019, but has since been told by Windsor city officials that the family isn't a priority for housing.

Housing priority list 

When asked about the length of time it takes to get housing, Debbie Cercone, the city's interim commissioner of human and health services, told CBC News that it's difficult to know how long someone will wait for housing.

She said there are two groups who are considered priority, that includes:

  • People experiencing domestic violence or human trafficking.

  • People experiencing homelessness.

Everyone else, according to Cercone, gets added to the list in chronological order.

This places Alshami and his family among 6,300 other households in Windsor-Essex vying for an affordable place to live.

"Individual circumstances are different and it's very difficult to prioritize certain populations over others when the need is so great and that's the issue that we have," Cercone said.

Jennifer La Grassa/CBC
Jennifer La Grassa/CBC

"Ideally, if you come and you need housing, you would get it, and unfortunately that's not how the system works," she said.

Cercone said there's a limited supply of accessible units, which is what the Alshami family requires. Currently, 136 are occupied and 45 households are waiting to get one.

Cercone said affordable housing remains a priority for all levels of government. In particular, the city's Housing and Homelessness Master Plan looks at bringing 2,000 more units in the next decade.

She also added that many newer spaces need to meet accessibility requirements, which means there will be more options for people living with disabilities.

Increase ODSP, housing supply: MPPs

Provincial politicians in Windsor told CBC News that affordable housing is top of mind for them, but that conversations would need to take place at a higher level on whether marginalized groups should get more priority.

Lisa Gretzky, NDP MPP for Windsor West, said more can be done to help, such as rent control on all units, funding for continued maintenance on rent controlled units, funding to build more social housing units and increasing the amount of money given to people on ODSP.

Jennifer La Grassa/CBC
Jennifer La Grassa/CBC

"We know that people with disabilities that rely on ODSP for their income source are living in abject poverty. It excludes them from being able to secure housing, many landlords will not accept people that have ODSP as their income," she said.

Andrew Dowie, PC MPP for Windsor-Tecumseh, said the province's Housing Affordability Task Force is working on improving housing opportunities.

"I feel for the situation of those who are newcomers and it's across the board really, they're not alone by any means, this is a pan-Ontario issue that does need some solutions so adding supply ... is where we need to get to," he said.

Meanwhile, the city said there are benefit programs, such as the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit program and the Windsor-Essex Housing Benefit, available that can help people afford their rent.

As for Alshami, he's hoping all levels of government will do more to help people in similar situations. With mounting debt and rising costs due to inflation, Alshami worries for his family.

"[The government] should take care and ask about us more, not just bring us to Canada and that's it," he said.

"They are giving us support, but it's not enough."

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