The United Counties of Leeds and Grenville will hire extra help for its public housing units in response to some residents’ claims that they are living in fear from abusive neighbours.
“They feel isolated and abandoned,” Mayor Pat Sayeau of Edwardsburgh/Cardinal said in reference to residents of public housing in Cardinal. “And it is the counties that abandoned them if we don’t step up and do something.”
Sayeau said that residents of public housing at 240 Helen St. in Cardinal appealed to him for help after a major drug bust by the OPP last month.
OPP raided a unit in the building and found multiple drugs, including crack cocaine and meth, and guns, ammo and money. Police charged a tenant with drug trafficking and other criminal offences.
Sayeau said that in a 12-month span, police had been called to the Cardinal building 76 times, including another occasion in which guns were found.
“The people in the Helen Street building need to know that the counties have got their back on this,” he said.
Sayeau referred to the Cardinal situation to support a recommendation by Alison Tutak, community and social services director, that the counties hire an additional caseworker on a one-year contract to deal with problems in public housing.
Tutak said the new caseworker would concentrate on troubles in three buildings: The one in Cardinal, at 11 Hastings in Brockville and in Westport at 56 Bedford Street West.
The caseworker’s job would be to support residents by creating a sense of community in the building, letting them know whom to call in case of crisis and, generally, help them to feel safer, she said.
Although counties council agreed to hire the extra staffer, several council members were opposed, arguing that another caseworker wasn’t the answer.
North Grenville Mayor David Gordon argued that a “group hug” wasn’t enough – the counties has to crack down on the “few rotten apples” who cause all the problems in public housing.
The solution is to evict the troublemakers, said Gordon, although he acknowledged that it is very hard to get rid of abusive tenants.
Most tenants of public housing are great people but a few abuse it for everyone, Gordon said.
“If they don’t want to abide by the rules, it is time to move them out and move in people who would deeply appreciate it,” he said.
Tenants who sell drugs, or who are drunk and abusive in hallways, and fighting with neighbours should be moved out, Gordon said.
But Westport Mayor Robin Jones noted that it is almost impossible to evict public housing tenants. Something has to be done now to help people feel safe, she added.
Jones said Tutak’s recommendation is modelled on the “hub” model that has proved successful in the Bartholomew Street project in Brockville. The idea is based on engaging residents in a community model.
The Westport council has advocated turning the village’s pubic housing into a seniors-only complex because of the troubles in the building, she said. But Jones said the village is prepared to drop that demand to give Tutak’s idea a try.
Tutak said it takes only one or two problem tenants to spoil the atmosphere in a building. As tenants change, the reputations of buildings change too, she said.