Final days loom for South Colborne

Genevieve Thompson doesn’t consider herself a pack rat, necessarily. Sitting in her living with boxes and various items – a barbecue, bicycles – scattered around, the 46-year old resident of 125 Colborne St. lower said she felt “overwhelmed.” Towels cover the front windows – likely there for privacy; she has had strangers come to her home in the summer thinking it’s a store. The television screen, tuned to Judge Joe Brown, gives the most light.

Unfortunately, it can’t give her direction.

Thompson has resided here with two of her children for three years. She says they are handling moving fairly well, but are concerned about switching schools partway through the school year and making new friends. (Her two oldest children are grown and live elsewhere.) She admits her 4500 square foot home isn’t perfect: the back two bedrooms are built on stilts and are cold in the winter, there are not many windows, and mice live in her basement – although her cats work hard to eliminate that problem.

“It’s depressing, looking at it,” she said of the belongings left to be packed up before Nov. 30 when the city takes possession of her building.

Thompson first saw that she “was being forced to leave” when she read about expropriation in the Expositor in August. “I had a lot of questions,” she said of her initial reaction. “Where are we going to go? We figured that we were going to be here for 10 or 20 years.”

Although she doesn’t always feel safe in her neighbourhood, Thompson seems to enjoy living downtown. She can easily get where she needs to go, a situation that is more than a simple preference. A recipient of Ontario Disability Support Program since last year, Thompson has chronic back pain that makes it difficult for her to walk or work. ODSP comprises most of her monthly income, and she spends the majority on rent. Affordability will be a consideration in finding a new location, as will finding a place she can manoeuvre easily in – chairs are difficult for her.

At the time of interview, Thompson estimated she’d looked at over 20 new locations, and she had a list of more places to visit. She was waiting to hear about a new home, farther away, but with a backyard for her children. When the Sputnik called a week later, she said that house was no longer an option.

But price and location won’t be the greatest factors in determining her new home. Currently, the children’s father lives above Thompson, and although the two are no longer a couple, they remain good friends. Their current living arrangement allows them to visit easily. Visiting matters now – he was diagnosed with cancer in August, around the same time City Council approved expropriation. In some ways, moving is the least of her concerns.

“It’s just another thing on my plate,” she said in a phone interview on Monday.

Midway through October, and Dan McCutcheon was feeling nervous.

“How many weeks do I have? Seven, a little over six?” He calculated the time remaining until Nov. 30. “There is a little bit of that, ‘Hey, you know what? I need to move a little bit quicker on this and maybe be a little bit more…proactive.’”

That’s not to say he hasn’t been looking. McCutcheon, who has lived at 79 ½ Colborne St. for almost 12 years, said he had looked at approximately 10 new locations. As of last Thursday, he was still searching, although one possibility looked especially promising. Now he’ll have to wait. The landlord of this particular location indicated he may take a few weeks to make his final decision, weeks McCutcheon doesn’t really have. As Nov. 30 approaches, he worries about apartments being ready by Dec.1.

Finances concern him, as they would anyone expecting to move to a location with a higher rent. He knows the amount he currently pays – $633 a month, all inclusive including cable – is extremely affordable. Still, he’s conscious of paying a higher rent once he finds a new place. His constant search to find the next great item to sell at his market stand has taken on a different sort of urgency. And even there, his customers remind him. Dan, Dan the Mushroom Man said about every third or fourth customer asks him if he knows where he’s moving. He appreciates the concern. But he doesn’t know.

He wonders, too, about how landlords respond when they hear he currently lives in South Colborne. “There’s a perception that anybody along that street is on social assistance. And some landlords may not be willing to maybe give that tenant a fair evaluation. Because, unfortunately, the status of most people living along Colborne Street is not something most people would desire.” McCutcheon chose to live on South Colborne not solely because of the apartment’s affordability. He realizes he has more options than many of his neighbours.

According to Deb Ballak and Frances Richardson, who together are helping relocate the approximately 60 households who were living along South Colborne when expropriation began, most residents have already found homes. As of Friday, Oct. 9, the Housing Resource Centre had helped place 27 tenants in new locations, while others had found accommodations independently. Ballak and Richardson have been unable to contact 11 individuals, and are currently working with 15. While some individuals were a little angry for having to move at the beginning of the process, Ballak and Richardson said many are happy with their new accommodations.

While the tenants range in age, socio-economic level and income sources, those living on fixed incomes are having a harder time finding housing that is affordable. Many tenants first located to South Colborne because it was so affordable. Now, they are forced to look elsewhere. According to Ballak and Richardson, a single person on Ontario Works receives $572 monthly. If even $450 is spent on rent, that leaves just over a hundred dollars to cover remaining living costs. In September, it was announced Brantford would receive over $9.5 million from the Canada-Ontario Affordable Housing Program. The funds will help create 171 new affordable housing units, but completion dates are unknown.

Tom Fitzgerald is one tenant who, along with his girlfriend, has recently found a new residence. Originally from New Brunswick, Fitzgerald moved to the upper unit of 121 Colborne St. because of its low rent. Last month, he found a place across the street, a place owned by his current landlord. Fitzgerald agrees the buildings need to be demolished. “When you walk on that side” – he said, indicating Harmony Square across the street, “it makes you feel like you’re not in a ghetto. This side is like a warzone.”

One South Colborne landlord the Sputnik contacted declined to comment for the article. Another, Steven Kun, did not respond to a phone message asking for an interview.
For Dan McCutcheon, the search will continue, and hopefully end soon. Most of McCutcheon’s neighbours have already moved. He was “either working or away” the day many of them left, so their absence alone doesn’t make him worry. But he’s conscious of the time.

“Now, I find myself, because I do have a nice view out of my back window, when there’s a full moon I go – ‘Wow, this is the last full moon I’m going to see.’ And that may not be too important to a lot of people. But, it’s just another reminder that the date is coming closer. And the calendar, you start looking at it, and I know once I put that page to November, we’re there. We’re there.”

Yes, we are.

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