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Who Are the Real Crazies Here

This story was originally published in Now Magazine on April 14, 2005:

Who are the real crazies here?

I went to a City of Toronto committee of adjustment meeting with my housemate not long ago. Some yahoos from our neighbourhood were trying to shoot down a group home’s renovation plans.

The owners, the non-profit organization Houselink, which provides supportive housing for psychiatric survivors, want to add four new self-contained two-bedroom units for low income families and generally improve the state of the Delaware Avenue building.

This will mean the current residents will have to vamoose for three months, but the owners will help them find other housing, pay their rent and allow them to return if they wish when the building is ready.

Well, some neighbours went ape-shit, led by three principals: 1) An ill-tempered man in black who insulted the committee chair and said he’d stand outside the house in question in protest until it all went away; 2) A yuppie filmmaker who offered my favourite comment of the night: “I’m making a deposition in favour of diversity, in small amounts”; and 3) a certified professional planner who submitted a 26-page letter to the committee outlining his objections to the renovation. According to him, it’s not a reno at all but a whole new kind of structure.

What’s really crazy about all this is that all the owners have asked for is to expand the building slightly. It would still be smaller than some of the surrounding houses. But according to the neighbours, it will be too big and too densely populated. Interestingly, it came out at the meeting that one of the complainers has a larger house (relative to lot size) than what’s being proposed.

Why do you think these yahoos really didn’t want this renovation? Could it be, by any chance, that they don’t like the idea of psychiatric survivors moving in next door? Nothing like a little NIMBYism to get your week started off right.

But the committee of adjustment is no place to discuss who’s living next door, since it isn’t legal to zone people. You aren’t allowed to base planning decisions on keeping out particular kinds of folks.

When one local mentioned drinking and drug use, the chair rightly pointed out that the committee is not the place to discuss tenant behaviour.

It was also argued that population density and drug abuse are directly related, but the chair said that no proof of this claim has ever been established.

The most beautiful thing happened at the end of the meeting: one of the committee members gave a brief but inspiring speech, saying, “I’m very heartened to see people so committed to protecting their houses, because I know how hard it is to get a house.”

Get it, folks? If you own a house, does that suddenly give you the right to deny others a decent living space?

The committee unanimously accepted the proposed renovation, and the yuppie man shouted into his microphone that it was nothing but a “kangaroo court.” Later, my housemate and I grinned and raised a golden glass over veggie burgers.

But it’s hard to keep your faith in humanity if you’re surrounded by the brazen selfishness of those who are comfy and cozy in their own digs.

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