On Monday, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) informed the community that it could not move forward with new housing initiatives to tackle the ongoing housing crisis because of a large, ever-growing unpaid rent debt in social housing.
In fact, according to Council, there is over $103,000 in unpaid rent at the multi-dwelling, with approximately $15,000 per month being added to the deficit.
“I was quite surprised about the amount of arrears and the whole situation,” said MCK chief Ryan Montour, who was selected as a portfolio chief in the Community Social Affairs portfolio in September.
“The fact of the matter is that there are just some tenants that have not been paying their rent. It’s a problem for the Housing Unit as a whole. It broke my heart when I was informed of just how big the amount of the arrears was and what it entailed.”
In the release, the MCK said that after the 2018 housing scandal, all debts that had accumulated previous to 2018 were forgiven.
Montour explained that the organization decided to write off the debts because it could not prove whether a tenant had been a victim of fraud or not.
“I think that one of the main reasons (that this happened) is that people have latched on to the idea of lack of trust with the prior MCK Housing Unit. I think some people have taken advantage of the fraud,” said the chief.
So even though everyone’s account was at zero after the write-off, he said that the Housing Unit has 10 tenants that account for 78 percent of the debt at multi-dwelling. Additionally, 21 out of 32 units are in arrears.
According to Montour, the previous Council was aware of the situation, but was not ready to take more stringent action.
However, he also acknowledged that there was no system in place to handle and control the arrears until recently.
“Obviously, we were in a pandemic, so there was no way that we were going to even entertain the idea of allowing – whatever actions that would be taken during a pandemic,” he said.
“Our job now is to continue to assist these people, but the issue of non-payment has to be addressed now.”
In order to start dealing with the problem, the Housing Unit will be mailing out statements of balance to all tenants as a first step.
“People just need to call the Housing Unit and explain their situation because they are there to help. But if people are blatantly refusing to pay because it is MCK, that has to be addressed,” said Montour.
“If they are having trouble paying, please call the Housing Unit so that they can assist you. Some of the tenants in arrears have no contact with the Housing Unit. It’s outright refusal to pay.”
The consequences of these arrears are major as they impact community members currently on a waiting list for social assistance. It also blocks the MCK’s ability to start building more housing for the community.
The chief said that just this week, he had to refuse a request to build 30 new houses and one six-plex.
“I would like to tell the community that these arrears are affecting more than just MCK Housing programs. There are 51 people on the waiting list. Fifty-one active cases who have applied and are ready to move in and willing and able to pay,” said the chief.
“There are at least over 40 people renting on the outside like Chateauguay and LaSalle and the surrounding communities.”
When asked if evictions were a possibility for those who continue to default on their payments, Montour said that the MCK wants to avoid that option.
“I come from multi-dwelling housing. I lived there before, so I can relate to the tenants there,” said Montour.
“My whole view is to give every man, woman and child a place to call home. That is where the strong family unit comes from. Everybody needs a place to make memories and to feel secure.”
Furthermore, he reminded community members that many financial controls were put in place after the housing scandal. He added that the Housing Unit is not involved in any manner with the collection of payments and arrears, which is handled exclusively by the Finance and Administration Unit.
“I am sure that most people are going to get back in good standing with their accounts. It’s their responsibility.”