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Anti-poverty group wants empty downtown house expropriated

Last Updated Sep 21, 2018 at 8:48 pm EDT

An anti-poverty group wants the city to expropriate 230 Sherbourne Street, Sept. 21, 2018. CITYNEWS

An anti-poverty group is holding a rally next month asking the City of Toronto to expropriate a large home that once provided housing for the poor.

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty says the property at 230 Sherbourne Street and the empty lot next door have been sitting empty for the last decade, and the building is in dire need of repairs.

“Steps from that intersection, lies this giant 30 room house and this big vacant lot here that have sat empty for the last 10 years,” said Yogi Acharya with OCAP.

“Meanwhile the housing crisis is showing its ugliness right in front of it.”

When the property was put up for sale earlier this year, OCAP said two dozen community organizations asked the city to put in an offer and force the owner to sell to them, fearing that developers would jump on it and further gentrify the downtown neighbourhood.

CityNews reached out to the person listed as the owner on city records and were told our calls would be returned but no comment was received at the time of publication.

It’s unclear why the properties were taken off the market, though it is within the owner’s complete right to decide what to do with their own property.

Based on the city’s own tax records, the properties together would be worth nearly $4-million.

“If the owners are unwilling to sell the property to the city, who will buy (it) at fair city value, then the city needs to take it over and expropriate it in public’s interest and turn it into social housing,” said Acharya.

“This is one of the last remaining corridors where homeless people can still gather and a market rate condominium in this neighbourhood would push people out and we can’t let that happen.”

The City of Toronto discussed the properties at the Affordable Housing Committee meeting in June and staff were asked to determine if the site should be purchased.

However, the director of the city’s Affordable Housing office said the for sale sign came down.

Currently everything is on hold until the municipal elections are over and the new council gives staff direction in January.

“I don’t have any directions to expropriate this property or buy it,” Sean Gadon, director of the Toronto Affordable Housing Office, explained.

“Seeing that the property has been there that long and vacant, maybe there’s a bit of risk but I’m optimistic that come next year this property will still be here.”

Though expropriating isn’t a new concept to the city, doing it for the purposes of affordable housing is. Because of this, staff were given instructions to develop a strategy on expropriating and acquiring properties for housing in the city, and they’re expected to report back sometime in 2019.

“The city doesn’t have a policy so it’s often very helpful when these kinds circumstances arrive, if you can have some sort of a framework or a policy for staff so that we can know if this would be the right site to buy,” Gadon said.

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s rally is planned for Oct. 11.