Toronto

City helps purchase rooming house amid 'destructive housing boom' in Parkdale

Through a first-of-its-kind partnership, the city and local charities have teamed up to buy a more than $2-million Parkdale rooming house — potentially saving more than a dozen tenants from eviction and creating the foundation for other similar projects, housing advocates say.

Innovative partnership with local charities helped protect home, 15 tenants

A partnership between various funding partners, including the city, helped purchase this Parkdale rooming house to ensure it remains a source of affordable housing. That's welcome news to Parkdale resident Lynne Sky, left, Joshua Barndt with the building's new owner, the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust, centre, and tenant advocate Ana Teresa Portillo, right. (Lauren Pelley/CBC News)

The city and local charities have teamed up to buy a more than $2-million Parkdale rooming house — potentially saving more than a dozen tenants from eviction and creating the foundation for other similar projects, housing advocates say. 

Unveiled at city hall on Wednesday, the purchase marks the first rooming house in Toronto owned by a community land trust, with an agreement in place that guarantees affordable rents in the building for the next 99 years.

"We thought it was time to have some good news in the city of Toronto," said councillor Gord Perks, who championed the concept behind council's 2018 decision to provide $1.5 million in funding for the purchase.

The 15-unit building on Maynard Avenue was up for sale to the general public with a $2.4-million price tag. It could have been bought by someone in the private market, which housing advocates believe would likely have led to all the tenants being evicted by a corporate landlord.

Instead, it will now be owned by a local organization called the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust.

"We're going to own this building permanently and make sure it stays affordable for residents," said Joshua Barndt, the land trust's executive director.

That means assuring that average rents across all units at the building are no more than 80 per cent of the average market rent for bachelor units, which currently means around $870 each month.

More than $600,000 to beautify the building came from provincial renovation funding, with other funding sources ranging from the province's local poverty reduction fund to several charities.

While the land trust will own it, the property will be operated and managed by the Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre, or PARC, an agency of the United Way.

The operators will work to provide housing allowances to make more units affordable for tenants on fixed incomes, Barndt said.

"This is a historic accomplishment for Parkdale and the city — in the middle of the most destructive housing boom Parkdale has seen in decades," he added.

At least 28 rooming houses sold over last decade

One 2017 study from the land trust highlighted the depths of the crisis, finding at least 28 rooming houses have been sold off over the last decade — leading to the loss of units for around 350 people. 

Housing advocates are now concerned more than a quarter of the nearly 200 rooming houses left in the west-end neighbourhood will disappear in the next five years.

Lynne Sky, who has lived in Parkdale for four decades, said that's the reason Wednesday's announcement is such a "pivotal moment."

Over the last 20 years, there have been constant evictions, she explained, with neighbours forced to couch-surf or flee into the shelter system.

"It destabilizes humans on a different level than just not having a roof over their head."

Now, with a new example of how that situation can be avoided, Sky and other housing advocates hope the city may emulate the rooming house purchase project on a broader scale it develops its next 10-year housing plan.

This marks "a good time to look at how to scale up these initiatives," housing committee chair and deputy mayor Ana Bailao said in a tweet following Wednesday's announcement.

Mayor John Tory, however, took a cooler stance, saying while rooming houses should be part of that conversation, the city should ideally have as few of them as possible — instead focusing on a broader array of housing options, including those with built-in supports.

"Most people in an ideal world would like to have something more than a room in a house," Tory said.

The multi-person dwellings also remain a source of controversy. While allowed in Parkdale, the homes are outlawed in various other areas, including Scarborough, due to pre-amalgamation zoning bylaws.

Rooming houses 'the devil word' in Scarborough, councillor says

In 2017, residents in the Scarborough fought a pilot project that would legalize the homes for a three-year period as the city figured out how to regulate the already-existing illegal stock.

Coun. Jim Karygiannis, who represents a Scarborough ward, said that anti-rooming house sentiment remains strong, leaving him wary of any calls to expand beyond the home purchase in Parkdale.

"Rooming houses, in my area, is the devil word," he said. "Nobody wants them."

But Sky stressed that for so many Toronto residents, this controversial form of housing is the only option.

"Those most challenged, those with disabilities and psychiatric challenges, and basic wage earners, can only afford a room in a rooming house," she said.

About the Author

Lauren Pelley

City Hall reporter

Lauren Pelley is a CBC reporter in Toronto covering city hall and municipal affairs. Contact her at: lauren.pelley@cbc.ca

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