East York tenants call on crown corporation invested in building to pull rent increase

Since discovering the Public Sector Pension Investment Board is invested in the private company that owns their building, tenants have taken action to stop an above-guideline rent increase. Mark McAllister continues to track their efforts.

By Mark McAllister and Meredith Bond

The tenants of an East York apartment building are taking their fight against a proposed rent increase straight to the government pension investment company that would benefit from it.

Tenants at 130 Gowan Avenue recently discovered the Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP) is a major investor in the company that owns their building. Landlord Starlight Investments is proposing an above-guideline rent increase of 4.2 per cent. Those who live in the building, many who have lived there for years, say it will price many of them out.

Gina Gray, an 87-year-old woman who has lived in the building for 24 years said she would not be able to afford the rent increase if it is approved. “I think that that’s what they’re doing so they can force us out. We can’t go out, where can we go?” Gray said.

Tenants hand delivered a letter to a member of the PSP’s Board of Directors in Toronto last week, asking PSP to direct Starlight to withdraw the Above Guideline Increase (AGI), but have not received a response.

A landlord must apply to Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board for approval of any rent increase above 1.2 per cent. The above-guideline increase is related to renovations that have been carried out on the building over the last year.

The pension investment fund is one of the largest in Canada, managing more than $200 billion dollars on behalf of 900,000 current and former federal public servants, including the RCMP and the Canadian Forces.

The Public Service Alliance Canada (PSAC), a union that represents around 160,000 workers who have their pensions with PSP, has sent a letter in support of the Gowan tenants.

The PSAC says they do not want their pensions used to price tenants out of their homes.

“After meeting with representatives of the tenants’ organizing group, my understanding is that many of the residents at 130 Gowan Avenue are on a fixed income or work in low wage occupations,” said PSAC in the letter addressed to Neil Cunningham, the President and CEO of PSP. “An AGI, particularly in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, would prove an enormous financial challenge for these individuals.”

“Allowing this situation to continue would invite significant material risk and would appear to the PSAC membership as being inconsistent with the legal and fiduciary obligations of PSP Investments to the participants and beneficiaries of the Federal Public Service Pension Plan,” he continued.

Housing advocate Philip Zigman tells CityNews PSP has not yet responded to any of the tenants’ attempts to reach them.

“So far, PSP investments has completely ignored the tenants and their calls and emails regarding the situation. But the hope is that they’ll come to understand that what they’re doing is unacceptable and that what they’re doing is harming people,” said Zigman.

“Starlight and PSP investments have the money to pay for these renovations. It’s their responsibility to maintain the building,” added Zigman. And it’s the tenants’ position that it should be PSP investments and Starlight that pays for these repairs, not struggling working class tenants and seniors on fixed incomes.”

Greenwin Corporation, which manages the property, previously told CityNews in a statement the rent increase was necessary because of capital improvements made to the building over the last year including the structural restoration of the balconies and the building exterior.

CityNews reached out to PSP, but has not received a response.

Supporters of the 130 Gowan tenants also held a rally outside PSP’s head office in Montreal on February 10.

“We want to have solidarity across cities because the problem is these are funds that invest all across Canada,” said Sandrine Belley, who attended the Montreal rally.

“The tenants of 130 Gowan are really mobilized. It’s about 100 units and all of them are mobilized and we want tenants in Montreal to mobilize like them and act in solidarity,” said Belley. “It’s something that we see all across Canada and we think we have to unite to fight these big forces.”

Tenants have vowed to continue the fight against their landlord and anyone who backs them, all in an effort to hold on to their homes.

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