Parkdale's rooming house 'crisis' could leave tenants with nowhere to go

Parkdale residents are facing a crisis as rents are spiking and rooming houses are being snapped up by families and real estate speculators, a neighbourhood group warns.

More than a quarter of west-end neighbourhood’s 198 rooming houses could be converted in coming years

Parkdale has 198 rooming houses, according to a neighbourhood group's study, but many are at risk as the neighbourhood gentrifies. (John Rieti/CBC)

Parkdale residents are facing a crisis as rents are spiking and rooming houses are being snapped up by families and real estate speculators, a neighbourhood group warns.

While a controversial article in Toronto Life, titled We bought a crack house, has put a spotlight on families taking over rooming houses, at least 28 such properties have been sold off over the last decade, a recent study by the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust (PNLT) found. As a result, the organization estimates 347 people were displaced.

Now PNLT says it's worried more than a quarter of the 198 rooming houses left in the west-end neighbourhood will disappear in the next five years, forcing the eviction of their tenants.

"The scale of the crisis is really scary," said Joshua Barndt, the organization's development coordinator.

Lynne Sky, here with her dog, Bella, is among the thousands of Parkdale residents who live in a rooming house. (John Rieti/CBC)

He worries those who are forced from their homes will wind up leaving Parkdale, couch-surfing with others or sleeping on the street. Lynne Sky, who lives in a rooming house and helped PNLT with its survey, said there aren't many places low-income people will be able to go.

"Are you under a bridge? Seriously, what is the alternative?" she told CBC Toronto.

With her pet Chihuahua, Bella, trailing behind, Sky points out the rooming houses she knows of, as well as the ones that have been purchased and converted.

The conditions in many of the rooming houses that still line avenues like Dowling and Beaty aren't good, she admits, but they help keep vulnerable people in Parkdale, a neighbourhood that offers many crucial supports.

Blame governments, not people moving in, councillor says

Coun. Gord Perks says Parkdale is unique in part because it got over the stigma attached to rooming houses, and went through a process of cleaning many up and getting them licensed by the city. Although they're a valuable part of the housing system, Perks says it's hard to protect rooming houses from being converted into two- or three-apartment buildings with tenants paying far higher rents.

We're running out of places in the city where low-income people can live.- Coun. Gord Perks

​PNLT documented one converted building where the monthly rent jumped from $590 to $1,590.

"We're running out of places in the city where low-income people can live, and have access to the social services they often need," Perks said.

With Torontonians searching city-wide for affordable properties, Perks says he can't blame the people moving into the area. Instead, he blames a lack of government support.

"In order for us to have robust, rich and diverse neighbourhoods, we have to actually spend money on housing for people in a variety of income types," he said at city hall.

"We just haven't seen that," he said, adding as an elected official, he's "ashamed" of the city's record on housing.

Neighbourhood group hoping to preserve rooming houses

PNLT, meanwhile, is working with the owners of some rooming houses, hoping to purchasing them and maintain them for their current purpose. Barndt said the difficulty is that it won't be cheap. He's hoping for city funding to help with the project — part of a larger 10-year strategy to preserve rooming houses.

"It's what makes Parkdale such a great mixed-income community," he said.

Perks said the organization needs to come up with a business case for the idea.

Meanwhile, the city is also holding a consultation process about rooming houses across the city, and is launching a pilot project to allow them in areas where they were considered illegal before.

About the Author

John Rieti

John Rieti covers city hall and city issues for CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country in search of great stories. Outside of work, catch him running or cycling around, often armed with a camera, always in search of excellent coffee.

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