The Peterborough Housing Corporation (PHC) is warning its remaining tenants in the Collison Heights neighbourhood that they will soon have to leave their homes, as the public housing provider continues to sell off dozens of single-family duplexes it owns in the area.
“This is not optional; these properties will be sold in the next six to 12 months,” reads a letter to tenants from Travis Doak, PHC’s director of operations, dated March 9. “Your partnership in this initiative is critical and urgent.” Tenants can relocate to other PHC units in the city and will be eligible for up to $5,000 to cover moving costs, it says.
Kyle Colvin said it “blew his mind” to receive the letter last month and learn that he and his family would soon have to leave their Collison Avenue home of 25 years. “The only thing that has been stable in life has been this home. It’s always been here for us,” Colvin said. “My anxiety is like through the roof.”
PHC is in the midst of selling its 50 semi-detached homes in the neighborhood to help finance other affordable housing developments elsewhere in the city.
When it announced the plan in 2017, the agency said the houses would only be put up for sale as tenants left them “through attrition.” Families “will not be forced to vacate their units in order for a sale to proceed,” reads a press release from that time.
That’s how Colvin, who shares a four-bedroom unit with his wife and four of their five children, understood the situation until he received the March 9 letter. PHC had offered financial incentives for the family to move out twice before, he said, but he thought they always had the option to stay.
“It was my understanding that … you could take the money and go somewhere else … or you could stay put,” he said. “They didn’t say that I would have to move out if I chose not to go.”
PHC interim CEO Hope Lee said in an email that it was “likely not the best use of language” to announce in 2017 that the homes would only be sold once vacated through attrition.
But she said that in the years since, staff have worked successfully with many tenants in the neighbourhood to move them to other PHC properties before selling their homes. Two of the families were able to buy their units with the help of a loan assistance program through the City, she said.
An earlier letter to tenants in December 2020 “clearly identified that the units must be sold,” but it did not state when that would happen, she said.
As long as the Colvins are still eligible for a four-bedroom unit, they will be moved to another unit of the same size, Lee said in an interview.
“We may not have the units vacant right now, but [tenants] will identify properties that they’re interested in, and then as units become available there, we would be offering those,” she said.
PHC has already sold 32 of the Collison Heights duplex units, which had long been part of Peterborough’s stock of rent-geared-to-income housing, where rent is adjusted to a household’s income. Colvin, who is on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program), said his family pays $475 a month for their four-bedroom unit.
The tenants in the sold units were all transferred to other PHC properties, except for two families who chose to move out of PHC housing and the two who purchased their units, Lee said.
Staff are “pretty confident” that they can find new affordable housing for the families in the 18 units that remain to be sold by next March, Lee said.
Councillor Henry Clarke, vice chair of PHC’s board of directors, said no tenants will be forced to leave their homes until they have somewhere to move to. “We are not putting anybody out on the street,” he said. The six-to-12-month deadline tenants were given in the letter is not “firm,” he said. “It’s a target.”
However, tenants cannot stay indefinitely. “It’s not an option, because those houses are being sold,” he said.
“I just wanted a stable home”
But Colvin and his family like their current home and don’t want to go anywhere.
The street is calm and lined with trees. They have a good-sized yard. And his children, between the ages of 9 and 29, all have friends in the neighbourhood.
It’s a soothing spot for Colvin, who said he feels unsafe living in close proximity to neighbours because of witnessing a lot of violence growing up in a rough part of east Toronto.
He fears that PHC will try to move him and his family to a rowhouse unit with less space between neighbours, and his anxiety will skyrocket as a result. That’s what happened when he lived at another PHC unit on Crawford Drive, before being transferred to the family’s current home.
Colvin said he moved dozens of times growing up with a single mother on a low income. “I didn’t want that for my kids. I just wanted a stable home,” he said. “That’s why we’ve been here so long.”
Colvin met with a PHC staff member earlier this month to discuss his options, but he said it wasn’t very helpful. He was told PHC didn’t have any units available for his family right now but to check the classified ads, he said.
However, the family can’t afford a private market rental, Colvin said. He gets $1,500 a month in ODSP payments, due to his anxiety as well as chronic insomnia and autism spectrum disorder. His wife stopped working last October due to a back injury. The couple’s oldest daughter, Lydia Colvin, 29, has an intellectual disability and also receives ODSP payments of about $800 a month.
Given Peterborough’s high rental prices, the money PHC is offering them would only cover a few months’ rent in the private market and won’t help his family afford a new home in the long term, Colvin said. “The money is not an incentive.”
Lee said she would ask staff to follow up with Colvin to see if they can find a solution for him and his family. “We’re certainly here to work as best as we can with individuals,” she said.
Affordable one-bedroom units urgently needed
The duplexes housed many families for decades, but they were “often underutilized,” with some bedrooms going empty, according to the 2017 press release.
Meanwhile, Peterborough urgently needs more smaller units – especially one-bedroom apartments – that are affordable to help alleviate the city’s affordable housing and homelessness crisis. “That’s the greatest need,” Lee said.
To help fill that gap, money from the duplex sales is going toward completion of a two-phase housing development on Bonaccord Street that includes many one- and two-bedroom units.
The first phase, called Malcolm Court, contains 34 units and is already occupied. However, the units are priced at 80 percent of average market rent, which is much less affordable than rent-geared-to-income housing.
PHC is aiming to eventually replace the 50 RGI units from Collison Heights in the second phase of the Bonaccord development, which is now under construction. “That’s the goal we’re working toward,” Lee said.
In December, City council approved a plan to use provincial funding to purchase a small number of the Collison Heights homes to keep them in public hands. “The units would be maintained as rent geared to income units rather than be transferred into private homeownership as originally planned,” read a staff report to council.
But Lee said that plan didn’t pan out. Purchasing the houses “didn’t meet the criteria” of the provincial funding, so the money went toward phase two of the Bonaccord development instead, she said. However, PHC is still looking at ways to keep some of the duplexes as public housing. “We are in discussions about how we could make that work in the future,” Lee said.