Disabled Sault Woman Feels Pressured to Choose: Housing or Human Rights

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The Sault Ste. Marie woman who was facing an eviction and ensuing homelessness just a few days ago has been offered a deal through the Sault Ste. Marie Housing Corporation. Unable to work and wheelchair-bound due to symptoms associated with a condition of Multiple Sclerosis, Valerie Belsito’s desperate situation was further challenged by the need to find a place to live in a housing market that is depleted of not only affordable but also accessible housing by April 14th – her eviction date.

But the settlement comes with conditions that do not sit well with Valerie.

The agreement includes a condition that Valerie withdraw or dismiss a complaint filed with the Human Rights Tribunal. This matter, though contentious, was not mentioned in the Northern Hoot’s previous article written about Valerie’s impending homelessness, for the simple reason that the two issues seemed to be separate of one another.

And Valerie thinks so too.

“My Human Rights complaint has nothing to do with the eviction. It’s about the way I’ve been treated and the way my kids have been treated for years.”

Valerie is referring to comments made by the property manager that were directed towards her, as well as her son and daughter, that she believed to be malicious and rooted in prejudice.

“I don’t think I should have to give up my Human Rights to maintain my housing. This isn’t an issue with Housing. My issue is with someone that works there. I know other people have been harassed by him too. I’m not the only one.”

However, the proposed contract also includes a promise from SSMHC to assign a new property manager to manage Valerie’s unit in which she is currently housed and where she may be housed in the future. The letter of offer, signed by the Commissioner of the Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Department, Mike Nadeau, goes on to state, “The SSMHC is making this offer out of concern that you may find yourself unable to secure adequate housing by April 14th.”

The Commissioner forwarded the proposal to reinstate Valerie’s loss of social housing subsidy retroactive to November 1st, 2014 under the following conditions:

  1. The income charge arrears, resulting from undeclared income, in the amount of $6,553.95 be fully paid to SSMHC. If payment in full is not an option, we are willing to enter into a mutually agreed upon payment plan. [This amount had climbed to over $10,000 but has been decreased in the offer.]
  2. As you are currently deemed to over housed, you add and maintain your move to the social housing wait list for all two bedroom modified units currently available to social housing until a modified unit becomes available. [In subsidized housing renters cannot occupy a home where the number of bedrooms outnumbers the need of bedrooms. Valerie and her daughter currently reside in a three bedroom home.]
  3. You accept the first two bedroom unit that becomes available.
  4. In the future you fully comply with all social housing legislation and policy.

If Valerie agrees to the above terms, including dismissing her complaint against SSMHC with the Human Rights Tribunal, SSMHC will rescind the current eviction order and will allow Valerie to remain in her current home until a 2 bedroom unit becomes available.

Valerie’s aunt and representative, Lynn Leclair has also struggled with SSMHC ‘stay of eviction’ terms.

“The Human Rights actions had nothing to do with the eviction,” said Leclair. “The eviction was never mentioned in that action. I believe that she should have the right to defend herself without being further bullied.”

It was Mahatma Ghandi that said, “All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and not take.”

In the meantime, Valerie and her aunt believe that SSMHC has forced Valerie’s to choose between affordable and accessible housing or her inherent rights as a human being.

Perhaps they are one and the same issue after all.

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