Local Woman Calls for More Accountability From Social Housing

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Social housing is rent geared-to-income housing, available to all citizens living in Ontario. Co-operative housing is meant to create a healthy and inclusive environment of participation whereby tenants contribute equally to the physical maintenance and social well-being of the complex. It is run by a board of directors, all of whom live in the complex, charged with making the decisions which a paid coordinator then implements.

But one woman’s experience in Sault Ste. Marie at La Chaumiere social housing complex paints a different picture of co-operative living in our community.

In 2012, Erin Jacques moved into La Chaumiere Place off of Queen street. For the first three years, everything ran smoothly. She became close with the group of people living there, worked continually to build a better life for herself and her children. “I never had a problem with anyone there,” Jacques told SaultOnline. “The kids (in the co-op) would have sleepovers, go on trips, come over and play with the baby. It was a very trusting relationship.”

In 2015, a new coordinator was hired and the situation immediately took a turn for the worse. Her mother, Debbie Dunlop, described the coordinator as a puppet master who has abused her power, leaving the board entirely at her disposal. Dunlop depicted the next two years as “constant badgering,” saying that social housing has violated her daughter’s human rights and caused lingering credit problems.

When Jacques rekindled her relationship with the father of her children, Andrew Jacques, the issues really came to a head. She said they wanted to take their relationship slow and live separately until they were ready to ease the transition for their four children. “He was approved as a casual guest. We were on and off for fifteen years, and he worked away, so doing it this way was just easier on the kids,” she explained.

However, alleged badgering and mounting pressure from the coordinator forced Jacques and her boyfriend (now husband) to change their living situation. Dunlop explained, “As soon as they (the board of directors) see a vehicle in the driveway, they are saying this and that. Accusing him of living there even though she provided evidence that he lived with his mother. They wanted to know where he was working, wanted his employment files. Eventually they told her that her boyfriend has to move in, forcing them to be co-applicants because it would just make things easier.”

Of the stressful period Jacques said, “She (the coordinator) determined what we did and didn’t do, and how long he stayed at our house. It became, oh he has to be a long-term guest, so he would live with me but not be a member of the co-op. I told her no, we weren’t ready. I provided his address, I.D, everything she asked. We were on Ontario Works and she told them we were frauding, so he got kicked off and then we had to live together. I put in the application for him and housing never got back to us for a couple of months so she evicted us.”

But that was just one of many tense situations that she shared with the coordinator.

“She tried to evict us when I was pregnant with my fourth child because Andrew backed the truck up on a one way street into a garbage dumpster to throw out the trash. She didn’t see it happen, but someone told her. We got a warning and it never happened again. But then she put it in to the Landlord Tenant Board that we had committed serious criminal offenses against the co-op,” Jacques alleged.

The issue was brought to court, where the judge allegedly told the coordinator to educate herself on when and how a tenant can be evicted, effectively dismissing the case.

Jacques also accumulated a number of fines and was threatened with eviction on more than one occasion. These fines include but are not limited to; missing co-op board meetings while pregnant despite having a doctor’s note, a pet she didn’t have as well as not cleaning after said pet, her boyfriend backing his truck up to a dumpster on a one-way street, an air-conditioner she didn’t have, changing the locks on the door without telling her, the coordinator’s lawyer fees. These fines added up to a whopping $5,000, which Erin and her mother have alleged are unwarranted and excessive.

Jacques alleged “she (the coordinator) put stuff in to collections that I had already paid off. Even when the board tells her she can take something out of collections because I’ve paid it or it’s wrong, she doesn’t.”

Jacques has also said she has never received a single detailed receipt from the coordinator in regards to what she was actually being fined for, and ultimately paying for. In fact, after evicted, she was asked to return to the co-op office to sign off on what she owed. According to Jacques, she was not permitted to read the files before signing it. “She (the coordinator) said I couldn’t read it, so Andrew wrote on it that we don’t agree that this is what we owe. Then I signed it and made her give me a copy. She was screaming and yelling, she grabbed his arm and tried to throw him out the door. We tried to charge her with assault but because it was private property and technically Andrew hadn’t been invited, she wanted to charge us for trespassing.”

The invoices are vague at best, and Jacques has speculated that the money within the unit is being mismanaged. Documents provided by the Jacques show that while they moved out of the co-op Sept. 1, the fee to pay for the carpet was not added to collections until Nov. 10. “So many of the fines I was never even told of. I would just see it in collections. She (the coordinator) didn’t even try to contact me to get me to pay first, she goes straight to collections. And I don’t know why. I’ve never missed a rent payment in my life, and the two fines that I am guilty of (a plumbing charge and a drywall issue) I am willing to pay, I own those ones.”

The fines and the money are one part of the story, but the other critical issue is the toll it took on Jacques mentally. “I was stressed and pregnant, I was violently ill almost the entire pregnancy. When we went to court, I gave birth the next day, two weeks early. Then I had to go back to court when the baby was a week old, not knowing if I would have somewhere to live.”

Now, Jacques and her family have been left in dire situation. “We could have kept fighting it” she explained, “but mentally I couldn’t keep doing it because she would just keep going and keep finding more loopholes to evict me. She didn’t like me because I stood up to her.”

Now they are paying full market price for a home in Echo Bay with four children and constantly coming to and from the Sault, she is struggling to make ends meet with terrible credit. “The truck loan was in my name, so when I went to trade it in they told me my credit was horrible. I had no idea why. Then when I went to check it out I found out I owed $5000 to the co-op,” Jacques explained. “My whole life crashed around me. We can’t pick ourselves back up.”

Jacques and Dunlop have called upon the aid of Social Housing Sault Ste. Marie to no avail. Of her request, Jacques said “I asked for help so many times. They (Social Housing) said get a lawyer. Well how do I get a lawyer when I have no money and I don’t have the credit to get a loan? I can’t get legal aid because it’s technically a civil matter. I am trapped and so many other women are too. Housing doesn’t care what happens to us.”

When asked for a statement on Erin Jacques’ situation, Social Housing told SaultOnline that they don’t deal with disputes, only financial oversight. The representative said that each individual housing complex has their own internal process for hiring and tribunals and legal clinics are in place for when those processes fail. “We don’t get in the middle of who is right and who is wrong,” the representative explained.

But what happens with the issues simply cannot be resolved internally?

The board is voted in by members, and the the board hires the coordinator. But the co-op operates in very tight circles. Jacques’ good friend, who is the president of the board, was kicked out of multiple meetings where Jacques’ case was discussed because it was deemed a “conflict of interest.” Jacques’ concern with this is “shouldn’t it be a conflict of interest for everybody in that case? I’ve taken their kids on trips, they’ve come into my house whenever they please, one of their mother’s dated my father-in-law. How is that fair?”

After speaking with another co-op, Jacques proposed the idea of having another board from another co-op come in and make the decision as to whether or not she should be evicted since they would be coming from an unbiased perspective. Jacques alleged that the coordinator said “its too much time and effort and she doesn’t want another co-op coming in.”

The board also refused to have a meeting without the coordinator, leaving Jacques and her family with nowhere to turn. They have taken matters into their own hands, turning to the media and protesting to get their story out there.

In May of 2018, Dunlop also requested a meeting with Judy Hupponen, Chair of the Sault Ste. Marie Housing Corporation in hopes that Hupponen would provide assistance with these “troubling issues.” What she got was a 20-minute phone call to summarize the situation, which allegedly ended with Hupponen saying she would “look into it and make some calls.”
According to Dunlop, Hupponen never offered further response or guidance.
When SaultOnline reached out to Hupponen for comment, she said she was not familiar with the story.

After protesting outside Social Housing six months ago, Jacques received word that the coordinator up and quit. La Chaumiere’s Board of Directors has since hired a new coordinator, according to the Social Services website.

This has co-op members and victims of alleged harassment like Erin Jacques asking who holds the Board of Directors accountable? Who holds the coordinator accountable?

When asked who holds the Board of Directors accountable, SaultOnline was told by Housing that “The Board of Directors is made up of peers, so it should be more fair. Once you’ve gone through the co-op board, just like any other organization, that doesn’t mean you’ve fallen out of the standard process of anyone renting a unit in Ontario.”

Housing listed the other options as the Landlord Tenant Board, which deals with the Landlord Tenant Act and arrears, but Jacques raised the point that she can’t go through the Landlord Tenant Board because she is no longer living in the co-operative, leaving her, and many like her, stuck with a debt she feels is unfair.

Housing also told SaultOnline that they only get involved in these processes when there is money involved. As far as they are concerned, corruption is when books are mismanaged and money is being used improperly.

But, there is money involved. The money of people like Erin, for whom a $5,000 debt to collections in an unbearable burden, especially when the fines are unwarranted.

Erin’s situation would indicate that there isn’t help. Housing made it clear that they are following the rules mandated within their system,
but perhaps the bigger problem is the system.

Debbie and Erin are calling upon elected officials to change the system.

Situations like Erin’s have left her, and many others, feeling like their financial and mental well-being is of lesser value than that of others.

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Riley Smith
Riley Smith is an enthusiastic and versatile critical thinker who has been with SaultOnline since January 2018. She holds a double Honours Degree in History and Political Science from Algoma University, and a Postgraduate Certificate in Public Relations and Event Management from Sault College. She is Google Marketing Fundamentals certified, and is also working towards a Certificate in Diversity and Intercultural Relations. When she's not reporting, you can find her MC'ing the Soo Greyhound home hockey games, spending time with her basset hound, Douggie, or seeing the world one breathtaking view at a time.

13 COMMENTS

  1. To all those who actually get the situation and the unaccountability of SSM Housing to act in the capacity as it is intended by government monies paying their wages:
    The article does sound like the family is just whining about having to pay market rent, But in fact it is about
    being harrassed and threatened by a corrupt coop coordinator and Board of Directors for 2 years with nonsense evictions (which were dismissed by the Tribunal judge),unsubstantiated fines and charges. When seeking help from all levels of local government, legal clinics,landlord tennant board and Sault Ste. Marie Housing(which was the placement into the co-op in the first place) was ignored, told to go away, and basically swept under the ‘proverbial carpet”.
    And to the angry responses, many families in lowrental homes, work, go to school,etc. But just need a Hand Up from bad situations: MISSION STATEMENT FOR SAULT STE. MARIE HOUSING : “helping people, building lives, and strengthening community” mmmmm?
    THEY DO NOT DESERVE social -economic rascism because of their situation. And Not everyone on social assistance drinks, smokes, does drugs, and goes to bingo.
    (note: dunlop is the advocate for Jacques, not tyrant)

  2. The renter should not have taken things at face value ! She should have asked for pro ok for and asked plenty of hard questions in writing by registered mail. Seek the help of a legal clinic ! If the rented in the article has suffered,and is now in a difficult situation she should consult with a lawyer, if the lawyer feels the case has merit, they will go after the board and coordinator and Housing ! When you see an evil person making your life difficult ask questions and document everything. Use video if you can and don’t put any money out unless they can prove you owe that money ! While you living there let them take you to the landlord and tenant board and make your case. The Adjudicators are not stupid they would see through Dunlop in a heart beat ! You have rights use them and don’t let anyone scare you in to a corner. Fight back. Get legal advice before the situation snow balls. When you write to the board you copy everyone involved in the co-op including housing ! Dunlop did not leave willingly ,she was told to leave or they would officially get rid of her ! Housing needs to make sure tenants are not forced out by tyrants like Dunlop ! The rules do need to be changed. Jaques can still get a free 1/2 hour with a lawyer to see if her case has merit. If Jaques has suffered and is still studdering someone has to pay up !

  3. Just saying – those are the rules and they are in the application stating about visitors and certain days and so on . It’s haopened to a lot of ppl not just her. Sorry to hear about paying full market rent but I’ve got 5 kids and pay full market rent as well !

    • Agreed Tanya is If people really don’t like it go pay full market and you can do whatever you please and nobody tells you what to do or gives you rules to follow… but you are getting assistance so you need to follow the rules… you’re getting free help

  4. I have many many issues living in housing units. The SSM Housing corp has done NOTHING to rectify ANYTHING that goes on around here, and it is continually getting worse by the day. It is currently a free-for-all and those of us trying to raise children that dont have a choice but to be here, follow the rules, and dont cause problems have to suffer and basically get the brush off because of everyone else. it’s disgusting, not to mention the condition of some of the units. But this is the sault where everyone does whatever they want with no consequences, so… join in the chaos or leave. what else are we supposed to do??

  5. Im sorry to play devils advocate but…. it seems like having 2 residences and getting one cheap… obviously she was in a relationship and cohabitating to get pregnant again no??? If your not serious or ready…. dont sleep with the man!!! Cannot abuse the system neither.. just saying.

  6. Another person who feels they are entitled to all government support. Give me a break. I have no tolerance for people who choose to quit school and stand there with their hands out…demanding everything. When I read they had four kids, I thought that this is completely irresponsible. How about getting a real job so the rest of us don’t have to pay for your lazy lifestyle. Quit whining about how sad your life is. Do something that actually resembles real employment.

      • Hard to understand Raeann? A real job would be when you get you butt out of bed and go to a place where they would actually work. Unfortunately, those who want their social benefits for sitting on their asses are those who whine the most. Yet they all have money to buy cigarettes, booze and other drugs while the rest of those paying taxes. Getting pregnant means more benefits and why would they work when they can do nothing. The only people who should receive benefits are those who have disabilities and cannot work. Able bodied welfare scum need to be cut off.

  7. When We drive by some of these geared to income houses and See newer cars in the driveways then this worker can afford ,we wonder who are we tax payers supporting…….. the poor or the car industry.
    Just saying……….

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