Friday, March 11, 2005

Who's Crazier? The Crazies, or the Ones Attacking the Crazies?

The other night my housemate took me to the City of Toronto Committee of Adjustment meeting where some yahoos from our neighbourhood were trying to shoot down the renovation of a group home. The owners, a nonprofit organization that provides supportive housing for psychiatric survivors, want to add 4 new self-contained 2-bedroom units for low income families and generally improve the state of the building. This will mean the current residents will have to vamousse in some months, but the owners will pay their rent for 3 months, help them find other housing and they'll be allowed to return if they wish as soon as the building is ready.

Well, the yahoos went apeshit, led by 3 principles: 1) An ill-tempered rolly-polly man-in-black who, having already threatened violence repeatedly against the owners in a previous meeting, insulted the Chair of the Adjustment Committee, and said he'd stand outside the house in question in protest until it all went away; 2) A yuppie film-maker, who offered my favourite comment of 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 renovation at all, but a whole new kind of structure).

What's really crazy about all this, is that all the owners were asking to do was expand the property slightly. It would still be smaller , relative to property size, than 10% of the surrounding houses. But according to the neighbours, it was just too big and just too densely populated. Interestingly, it came out at the meeting that character number 1 (violent man) has a larger house (relative to lot size) than what is being proposed.

Not to bore you with planning details, but why do you think these yahoos REALLY didn't want this renovation, when they themselves have monster homes? Could it be, by any chance, that it's because 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. The only person on their side of the argument who seemed to understand this was the planner, so he used some absurd and backward planning illogic instead, and was listened to patiently, but ultimately, shot down.

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', and my housemate and I raised a golden glass over veggie burgers and smiled broadly.

But it's hard to keep one's faith in humanity when one is surrounded by brazen selfishness with no understanding of what community really means.


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