For years, advocates for low-income Parkdale residents have been sounding the alarm about the neighbourhood’s vanishing rooming houses.
But talk is cheap. And real estate is expensive.
So rather than helplessly watch as wealthy investors scooped up and up-scaled the coveted buildings, they’ve decided to get in the game — the real estate game.
A new City of Toronto pilot project is ponying up $1.5 million to help non-profit organizations like the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust (PNLT) purchase rooming houses that are at risk of being converted into higher income housing.
The Rooming House Acquisition and Modernization pilot project aims to keep housing affordable for vulnerable residents who could end up in the overburdened shelter system, or on the streets, if they’re displaced.
A PNLT conducted study last year found that 347 low-income Parkdale tenants have lost their homes to real estate conversions over the last 10 years, and over 800 current tenants could face a similar fate.
“Parkdale is changing,” said Joshua Barndt, PNLT Development Coordinator. “The main issue that we are concerned about right now is rents are going up, affordable housing is being lost, and low income tenants are being pushed out of their neighbourhood.”
Barndt says that in the eyes of many real estate investors, low-income residents are an impediment to profit.
“They want to get as much as they can for their units. So they are either raising rents and economically evicting tenants, or pushing tenants out in illegal and unlawful ways,” he explained.
“Every month, we see new rooming houses coming up for sale. If a speculative investor buys that building the result is generally that low-income people get pushed out.”
Long-time Parkdale resident, Wahid Bayan, agrees. He says he was forced to move out of his Jameson Avenue apartment after the rent was jacked up by $500 a month.
“Where are we going to go? To the jungle?” he asked. “There’s no jobs there. We don’t own cars. We can’t drive to the job site. That’s why we are here in Parkdale, we are poor people. Too many rich people are moving in and they don’t like to see people on the street, or begging, struggling. They don’t want to see that.”
“Technically, yes, we are (being forced out). Because we can’t afford it anymore.”
Barndt hopes the pilot project can help stem that displacement.
“We hope to take advantage of this program,” he said. “We are going to find a building that we are concerned the tenants are going to lose their housing if there is not an intervention. We are going to apply to the city for the money and we hope to save that housing as permanently affordable housing.”
Parkdale-High Park councillor Gord Perks put forth the motion to create the pilot project after advocacy by the PNLT and other community groups.
“A number of the community organizations who are involved in housing in Parkdale have been making efforts to try and buy rooming houses when they come up on the market,” Perks explained. “The problem is it’s difficult for them to come up with the money…So what I’ve organized is a fund where they can go to the city staff and say ‘This property is up for sale, we want to move quickly and get it,’ and not have to get a long approval process from city council.
“This, I hope, will allow them to buy the rooming houses and keep them as rooming houses so those tenants don’t wind up in our shelter system or on the street.”
Perks says if the pilot project is a success in Parkdale, he hopes to see it expanded across the city.