My Dream Apartment
From the Nest, Issue 6
by Hyeisha Campbell
A fresh start. A new life. A quiet and safe life. Those were the words swimming in my head as I planned my exit from Toronto. I needed to downsize from my two bedrooms plus storage to a smaller and more affordable apartment. Enough space for my human family of three and cat family of four was paramount.
My ideal apartment needed to have one bedroom with two storage rooms but I hadn’t heard of such a thing. Shortly into my search, I found an apartment similar to my ideal rental home in Scarborough; but it was waitlisted by a year and not in my preferred part of the city. The one bedroom, plus den (bedroom) with an enclosed balcony was out of my reach. The only question I needed to answer was, where would I find my dream apartment?
After years of debating moving out of the country, I had decided to stay and move to London, Ontario. It seemed to have the small-town comfort I wanted with the big city vibe that I was used to and the market rent was very affordable. But as the years passed, I realized that I couldn’t move too far away from my loved ones. So, I was either going east a couple towns over to Oshawa, or west an hour away to Hamilton. London was much too far. During my planning, rental prices and close proximity to a walkable grocery store, emergency services, and schools were at the top of my list for my perfect neighbourhood.
I spent four days driving around Hamilton. I stayed in two Airbnbs, one on the mountain, and one downtown, so that I could get a good sense of the city as a whole. I got turned around a few times and strayed from my path, ending up in Grimsby at one point. Nevertheless, I unknowingly circled back to Beasley. It was love at first sight. More like blind love, looking back.
I had a list of about 30 apartments to see. Rebecca Towers was last on my list as it was close to the highway heading back to Toronto. I hadn’t seen any pictures of a potential unit and was skeptical. I was excited to see the nicely renovated units within my price range, I had found my dream apartment!
I signed the lease after “verifying” with Medallion staff that I would not have any pest issues and that the customer service was on par with what I expected. I saw my new home to be, just perfect.
But on my move-in day, things were not perfect. I heard an angry woman yell behind her door, “Get away from my door!”. A shudder came over my body as I realized that I didn’t quite factor one more thing for my ideal home — the people who live here. This one person turned my dream home into a nightmare; slamming her door on almost a daily basis so loud that my toddler and blocking cat recoiled in fear from the slams. Unfortunately, it became our new normal as Medallion used the false claims of my racist neighbour in an effort to attempt to evict my family for two and a half years.
I love Beasley and I love my one bedroom with two storage rooms. It’s provided privacy for my 4 cats and a working space for me. My dream apartment was perfect, but my building had several infestations.
Lack of heat, bed bugs and roaches became the least of my problems as Medallion moved to evict me based on lies by my racist neighbor, using her as their sole witness. Six months into my tenancy, I had to plan another move. I had a two year and a half year crisis while living there, but found some solace in knowing that all things end.
Over the next two and a half years, I lived in fear, confusion and discomfort. What have I done? How could I have led my family into this mess of a city? I rationalized that I was much too close to the downtown core and as my eyes opened more and more over time. I could see the cracks in my beautiful community. Strange looks, stares, passive aggression and sometimes anger directed towards my biracial toddler and I while playing at the park, shopping, and collecting packages at the post office became my new normal.
I eventually dreaded living at Rebecca Towers, so I reached out to a local association for guidance. They supported me in starting a tenant committee in the building because we knew that others were also having issues with Medallion. There is a stigma of keeping quiet about tenant issues, but I was encouraged not to fight on my own. After buying my first car, I had access to the underground garage that had multiple break-ins prior to my access. During the pandemic, the disrepair of the building became more obvious. The parking garage was hoarding garbage all over and our 17 story building was forced to use one elevator, so I decided to move.
As an optimist, I choose to believe the best in people. And despite being convinced to do the opposite, I am now taking back my gold. The good that came out of my experience is that I was able to form a tenant committee of people who are fighting for their home, for their safety, and for their sanity. I am proud to have helped to change that — if only for a few good families.
Without any assistance from Medallion, the Rebecca Towers Tenant Committee has advocated for door-to-door vaccines to families who were homebound during a COVID-19 (B.1.1.7 variant) outbreak, established a line of communication with City employees, organized a grocery / food drive / PPE delivery service, continues to work diligently in improving the deteriorating conditions of the building / neighbourhood, and is now creating a code of conduct for tenants.
I’m happy to say that I’ve found a relatively safer neighbourhood and was able to begin truly healing from traumatizing memories of my perfect apartment. As for my own downtown experience, I am looking forward to leaving the downtown area when I am able and surely will not miss the darkness.
Hyeisha Campbell lives in the Durand area, is the owner of Cleaning Takeover and spends her free time advocating with the Rebecca Towers Tenant Committee