• Michael Laxer

Toronto targets tiny shelters as city ranked 5th most unaffordable housing market in world

Updated: Feb 26

Toronto's leaders have spectacularly failed to tackle the city's affordable housing crisis. Yet now, during the winter and a pandemic, the city is taking legal action against a builder of tiny shelters for the unhoused.

One of Khaleel Seivwright's tiny shelters -- image via twitter


There is likely no better embodiment of the basic cruelty of the neo-liberal City of Toronto and its political class and leadership than the fact that it is pursuing an injunction against a man who built tiny shelters for the unhoused just as Toronto was ranked as the fifth most unaffordable city in the world for real estate.


Khaleel Seivwright is a Toronto carpenter who has been building tiny shelters for Toronto's unhoused. The city filed an application for an injunction "with the Ontario Superior Court on Feb. 12 to prevent what it considers illegal dumping of wooden shelters on city property. The city considers the wooden structures unsafe. Seivwright is named in the application.".


The city wants to "permanently restrain Seivwright from placing or relocating structures on city-owned land. It says installing structures in city parks is against its bylaws, which prohibit camping and living in parks."


Of course, people only "camp" or "live" in parks when they don't have housing. The city of Toronto and its political class -- as well as the provincial and federal governments -- have failed generationally to tackle the affordable housing crisis or to build affordable housing.


Seivwright posted a You Tube statement February 22 asking the city to drop its legal action against him and invest the money in housing instead, "The City of Toronto has a housing crisis. This pandemic has made it worse. The shelter system has left many people with no options."


The very first comment on the video reads:


I wanted to thank you again for building me a Tiny Shelter when I was living in the park. After 3 months of being in a tent, on the ground, it made such a huge difference. It improved my physical mobility and my pain levels. I was able to sleep through the night for the first time. I did not have to go to sleep holding my medication and my cane, terrified that someone would steal them. It was warm, dry and safe. I had somewhere to recuperate and (for the first time), privacy. I had somewhere safe to store the belongings I could not carry with me when I went to the bathroom. It gave me stability, security and a sense of home. You have done far more for me than the City of Toronto ever has. Peace.

On the CBC Radio show As It Happens, another woman who lived in one the shelters he built, Jennifer Jewell, said:


It was amazing. I spent the first three months living in the park in a tent. And I have several conditions with chronic pain and fatigue, including osteoarthritis, and sleeping on the ground and being on the ground and having to climb in and out of my tent throughout the day made my pain a lot worse. My mobility was a lot worse. I was having to sit down for an hour just to walk the 20 or 30 metres to get to the public bathrooms.
In the shelter, I didn't have any of those problems. It was much more accessible for me to get in and out. It was warm and dry. There was one night where there was a blizzard outside and I was able to go to sleep with the window open.

Seivwright notes that:


People who rely on the shelter system no longer trust it. The City’s reputation is terrible when it comes to providing safe and available shelters. We need to work together to support our vulnerable residents.
The City of Toronto should drop its application against me and focus its resources and efforts on what matters – getting people safely housed. It’s February. The City should not be removing or destroying tiny shelters until real alternatives exist and COVID-19 is under control.

Desmond Cole posted on Facebook in support of Seivwright pointing out that Toronto mayor John Tory "is paying lawyers to criminalize those providing relief." He calls on people to show support for Seivwright by calling the mayor's office.

Meanwhile, as the city tries to stop Seivwright, BlogTO reported on February 24 that Toronto "has been ranked among the five most expensive cities for real estate in the entire world".


The report by the Urban Reform Institute and Frontier Centre for Public Policy found that:


Toronto, which came in at number five on the list, is considered to be "severely unaffordable," a category for those markets found to have a price-to-income ratio of 5.1 or more.
The city scored 9.9, compared to the worst offender, Hong Kong, which scored 20.7. Vancouver was ranked second at 13.0, followed by Sydney (11.8) and Auckland (10.0).
Toronto was also found to have the second largest jump from last year's numbers, up another 1.3 points, meaning that housing prices have risen dramatically, and median income in the city has not kept up.

The city of Toronto and its leaders have spectacularly failed to tackle the affordable housing crisis. Now, in the depth of winter and during a pandemic, it is a striking statement that targeting a provider of tiny shelters would be their priority.