In the heart of Parkdale a small band of tenants and housing advocates are celebrating a singular yet monumental victory in the ongoing battle with gentrification — the purchase of a rooming house.
The Neighbourhood Land Trust, a charity, has become the proud owner of a licensed rooming house on Maynard Ave. near King St. W, scooped from Toronto’s white hot real estate market thanks primarily to $1.5 million in city funds.
The sale — the first of its kind and made possible through a pilot project designed to preserve rooming house stock — means the home’s 15 units will remain affordable for almost 100 years.
“Most Parkdale residents have lived here for a long time and plan to continue to live here, and to make that possible we need housing that is long-term,” said Joshua Barndt, executive director of The Neighbourhood Land Trust.
“As a community we have proven that we have the capacity and ability to take properties off the market,” Barndt said. “We have proven there is another way to own housing.”
City council signed off on the project in 2018. The one-time amount came through Section 37 deals. That money is given to the city by developers in exchange for a bend in zoning rules — such as the height allowed on buildings in a certain area — and is meant to be spent on projects that benefit the local community, such as parks, art, and recreation centres.
The idea was championed by Gord Perks (Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park). “The goal of the pilot program was to enable local non-profit organizations to buy a rooming house before it’s sold to someone else and all the tenants get evicted,” said Perks in a release Wednesday.
The property cost less than $2.4 million — the trust is not disclosing the exact closing price — and the trust has taken on a mortgage for the outstanding amount, Barndt said. The converted, four-storey red brick house is currently home to 15 tenants who pay between $500 and $1,100 per month for a bachelorette unit, another term for micro-apartment.
On top of the city money, the group will have about $600,000 for repairs and improvements through a provincial program called Ontario Renovates, which provides support for affordable housing projects.
While improvements will be made throughout the property, none of the existing tenants will be displaced during construction or renovations, Barndt said.
Parkdale resident Lynne Sky, a member organizer with the land trust, said the loss of rooming houses in the area has been “truly devastating” in a city with a severe shortage of affordable rental units.
“It cannot be lost because there is no” equivalent or similarly low-cost housing available for people in Toronto, said Sky.
The Neighbourhood Land Trust is the charity arm of the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust, a not-for-profit group dedicated to preserving the culture and diversity of Parkdale. The property will be managed by the Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre (PARC).
PARC already runs affordable and transitional housing in south Parkdale, on top of facilitating programs for marginalized men and women. If units become available for rent in the property, PARC will give priority to people experiencing homelessness. Any new tenants will also be assessed and provided with support services as needed.
PARC executive director Victor Willis said that while the city partnership and the property sale is worth celebrating, the hope is the city commits to permanent funding.
“Our real goal here is to have a robust partnership where we do this again and again, and it becomes a model for other partners to step in and work with the land trust,” Willis said.
PARC has signed a 49-year lease with the trust. The deal with the city stipulates the average rent for the entire property must be at or below 80 per cent of average market rent for 99 years.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. reports that in 2018, the average cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment in the former city of Toronto was $1,420, and a bachelor unit’s average rent was $1,128.
The market average is calculated using apartments built to be rentals and does not include condos or secondary suites.
Rent control, which has long applied to older buildings and was expanded in 2017 to cover all occupied units, keeps tenants in those controlled apartments longer. Finding a new place to live on the open market would be two or three times as expensive.
Barndt said that the average rent of the current tenants of the newly bought building comes out to about 70 per cent of average market rent.
Because the land trust is using public dollars for repairs, those costs will not trickle down to tenants, he said. In the private market, landlords can apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board to have some of those costs passed down to renters.
In spring 2017, the land trust published a report on Parkdale rooming houses that looked at who was living in rooming house-style units and how many of those properties were at risk of private sale.
Sky was part of that research team, which included area residents and volunteers and documented 198 “rooming houses, bachelorette buildings, community non-profit buildings and possible rooming houses,” capable of holding as many 2,715 people.
About 60 of those properties were at risk of being sold or converted into higher cost housing, potentially putting as many as 818 people out of their homes, according to the report.
Since then, more than five have been lost as affordable housing, the original tenants removed and the property upscaled, Barndt said.
Sky said having this rooming house owned by the land trust is a “fabulous” moment created through years of “blood, sweat” and activism.
“We have a model that we can sell across the country to help people, and it is so necessary,” said Sky. “It might seem small, but it is rather huge.”
Emily Mathieu is a Toronto-based reporter covering affordable and precarious housing. Follow her on Twitter: @emathieustar