Every month, Awesome Kingston gives away a $1000 micro-grant to a local project pitched by its creator. These days, the pitch party is happening virtually, but the outcome is still the same. No-strings-attached money is given to the winner to help them develop the projects that Awesome Kingston thinks will help keep Kingston awesome.
Nick Lorraway and Natalie Woodland were the February winners with The Home Standards Project, an assessment tool for renters to help identify issues and bylaw violations at their rental property.
After Nick and Natalie suffered through terrible conditions while living in the student district here in Kingston, they decided to do something about it.
The pair say the goal of The Home Standards Project is to provide a tool to help people understand minimum bylaw standards and advocate for themselves with more self assurance. "No one likes to ask their landlord to do something, especially if they were like ours, aggressive and rude," the pair said. "We want to help empower people to demand these repairs. Like being someone in their corner."
"This is really an open secret at Queen’s," Nick and Natalie shared. "Everyone pretty much lives in subpar housing. We began discussing solutions to this early last summer, Queen's Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC) had been keen to pursue a housing related project, and we decided that a website would be the best medium."
The pair say they applied for the Awesome Kingston microgrant simply because costs for the project started adding up.
"We’ve decided we want to make this project as good as possible and as professional as possible from the get go, because there’s obviously a connection between the professionalism of a site and the ability for us to get people to use it," they shared in an email to Kingstonist.
"A lot of our project is based around legitimacy, who is legitimate to demand repairs, what is a legitimate repair, what are legitimately provided through the bylaw standards, so it's important to have a site that reflects that seriousness and shows that we know what we’re talking about."
The Home Standards Project hopes to educate people on their rights, and minimum standards rental units should be kept to.
"Minimum standards are there for a reason, anything below is a health and safety risk and, frankly, not something that belongs in our city," the pair explained. "If you want to be a landlord, great, but it’s not just about collecting rent cheques. You need to make sure that maintenance is regularly conducted and the unit is above the minimum standard. Because if you’re not doing that, you’re not a landlord, you’re a slumlord."
"This is an endemic problem," they continued. "We want to expand to other cities, we think that this is something that needs to exist and getting it into the hands of as many people as possible can lead to better living conditions and hopefully a more equal playing field for renters. Our aim is to support groups on the ground like Katarokwi (Kingston) Union of Tenants."
"Katarokwi (Kingston) Union of Tenants, are actively getting people off the street, and helping people living in subpar conditions, and just all around doing amazing work with no government support, often paying out of their own pocket. We hope to support them, and empower individuals to speak up and demand their rights."
The pair say they will also use the microgrant for advertising. "So far we have only used social media but we want to get off line and try to meet people where they’re at," Nick and Natalie said. "That includes print and radio advertisements, which cost a lot more than just a Facebook share."
"We want to be a disruptor, to change the face of renting in this city and to do that we need to get the word out in a meaningful way, and that means advertising, and that burns money."
Another major goal of the project is expansion. The pair say if these problems are happening here, they're happening elsewhere.
"From what we’ve seen in Kington, 2,730 violations (where people indicated a violation) were found in three weeks from 183 units. When we include people who indicated 'unsure,' that number rises to 4,007. These are full assessments, where people actually generated a report --- over a thousand used the tool, but not everyone generated a report."
Nick and Natalie say that every unit assessed has at least one violation.
"The stock of rental housing isn’t the only issue in this city. Ensuring that the quality of (often low income) housing remains above standard needs to be a priority. We’ve heard from people that are making a decision to live outside instead of in some of this housing and that is fundamentally unacceptable. It is that bad."
The website leads people through their apartment, room by room, and asks questions about the quality of certain aspects. For example, in the kitchen there would be questions about leaky taps and countertop space, as well as general questions about windows and walls.
Once the user completes the assessment, the website can generate a report that contains all of the violations indicated, cross referenced with the bylaw that says it needs to be kept at standard.
"We provide a page on next steps, with some resources on what to do if the landlord is uncooperative, but it really does depend on the individual to send the report and demand the repairs," the entrepreneurs said. "We are planning on adding more resources, like responses to uncooperative landlords, email templates, tips for talking to your landlord, and more information on rental law."
"The intention is that this is a tool to be used that can support people in their efforts to get repairs, but it needs to be led by them."
Read the The Home Standards Project pitch on the Awesome Kingston website.
How does Awesome Kingston work?
The trustee group is made up of community-minded individuals who want to help make Kingston a more awesome city by volunteering time and money to Awesome Kingston. Each of the trustees provides $100 to make up the $1,000 microgrant every month. The venues for the pitch parties are provided to the organization at no charge, allowing them to put all the monies collected from the trustees into the grant. It is as simple as local people helping to get local ideas off the ground to keep Kingston Awesome!
Story by Jessica Foley, The Kingstonist, for the Local Journalism Initiative