Over 50 organizations show solidarity with York-South Weston rent strikes

More than 50 food banks, faith and community organizations have signed a joint letter in support of tenants who have been withholding rent to protest increases. Mark McAllister reports.

By Meredith Bond and Mark McAllister

Almost three months into a rent strike, more than 50 food banks, faith and community organizations have announced their support for the tenants of 33 King Street and 22 John Street in the York South-Weston neighbourhood.

Residents of 33 King have withheld rent from their landlord, Dream Unlimited, since June 1. Some tenants at the neighbouring building at 22 John stopped paying rent on July 1.

They cited mismanagement by the corporate landlord and increases they say are three times higher than the buildings’ rent control guidelines.

The organizations have released an open letter of community solidarity, saying they have seen the impact of excessive rent increases in the building. They are urging Dream to come to a fair agreement with the York South-Weston Tenant Union.

The Weston King Neighbourhood Centre, which is among the organizations, said they declined a donation from Dream’s Community Foundation in solidarity with the tenants on rent strike.

“It’s not helpful when the folks who basically are paying into that donation through their rents are the same people who have to come to our organization, to receive charity and to receive and all of that stuff where they wouldn’t have to do that if they had our rent. It’s backwards,” said Bryan Douthwright, a community advocate with the centre.

“If there’s fair rent and fair wages for everyone, then this type of charity or halfhearted charity isn’t necessary,” said Douthwright.

Shaneeza Nazeer Ally, Executive Director at For Youth Initiative, said they are seeing the impact on families who are struggling in the community and that’s why they are supporting the rent strike.

“We are in a housing crisis and an affordability crisis in our city,” said Ally. “Instability in housing is the tipping point for so many undesirable outcomes, missed opportunities and real safety concerns in the community.”

Dream Unlimited said they have negotiated an above-rent increase, down from 7.5 per cent to 3 per cent for the tenants at 33 King. At 22 John, Dream has noted that the building is not subject to provincial rent guidelines because its build was completed after 2018 and there are currently no applications before the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB).

Provincial guidelines allow landlords of rent-controlled buildings to increase rents for most existing tenants based on the annual rent increase guidelines, which in 2023 is set at 2.5 per cent. The rent increase guideline for 2024 will remain unchanged.

The cap does not apply to rental units first occupied after Nov. 15, 2018. Landlords can also apply to the LTB for increases above the rate set by the province, called Above Guideline Increases (AGIs)

Dream has also stressed that the AGIs that are currently the subject of discussion were inherited from the previous owner, and the company has not applied for any AGIs since we acquired the properties in 2021.

Some tenants at 33 King Street have reported rent increases of 22 per cent over the last five years while increases of between seven to 10 per cent have been reported at neighbouring 22 John Street since the building opened in 2019.

According to the York South-Weston Tenant Union, about 300 units in total are participating in the rent strike.

“So it’s just about 200 at 33 King and about 100 units of 22 John, and it’s about half the tenants between both buildings that are participating in the strike,” said organizer Bruno Dobrusin.

Dream tells CityNews there are only 45 tenants from 33 King participating in the rent strike and the number is actually a decrease from last month.

Dobrusin said the rent strike will go on as long as it takes.

“It really is a serious problem with the excessive rent increases. People are willing to keep going with this.”

“It’s a problem because housing is a human right, people have a right to decent and affordable housing place to call home. It’s a problem because we are in a crisis where we’re prioritizing the profits of massive corporations like Dream instead of tenants that have to increasingly rely on food banks,” added Dobrusin.

The tenant union said Dream has begun the process of evicting those who are not paying rent. They are encouraging Dream to meet with them to negotiate a solution.

“We are hopeful that there will be more pressure on the landlord to sit down, to have a negotiation with them. So far, we can say there’s been any kind of real intention from their side to sit down and negotiate,” said Dobrusin.

Dream said in a statement, that they have hosted meetings with individual tenants and the Tenant Association, “as well as consistently and proactively educated tenants on the risk of not paying their rent for their apartment that they are living in.”

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