East-end arts organization on verge of becoming 'homeless,' councillor calls on city to help
Artists' Network being forced to move for the 4th time since 2003 amid rising rents
A city councillor is hoping to find a new home for an east-end arts organization that's being forced to move its headquarters — for the fourth time since 2003.
The Artists' Network, based in Riverside, is a mentorship and education group for Toronto visual artists, which operates the annual Riverdale Art Walk and other local exhibitions.
After moving three times before, and with a June deadline looming to leave their current short-term space, the team is "scrambling" to find a new affordable, permanent location, said Kate Taylor, a professional artist and chair of the network.
"This is now critical. We've done everything possible to find a place," she said. "The reality is, we're on Queen Street East, and those values have increased dramatically, beyond what we can afford."
Coun. Paula Fletcher is hoping the city will step in.
Through a member motion heading to city council next week, she's calling on the city to help find a suitable space for the group, and points the finger at gentrification in the neighbourhood for continually pricing out the organization.
"It would be a terrible loss for the arts community and for east Toronto if this long-standing organization becomes homeless," she wrote in the motion.
Speaking to CBC Toronto from a city business trip to Los Angeles, Fletcher said her goal is to have various departments look for spaces that aren't currently being used for city services, in hopes of renting a surplus spot to the network.
Organizations, businesses being priced out across Toronto
One housing affordability expert says the organization's plight is just one example of a broader trend.
"Arts organizations help revitalize a neighbourhood ... Then, over time, that makes a neighbourhood trendy, property values go up, and then the catalyst is priced out," said Cherise Burda, executive director for Ryerson's City Building Institute.
That's often because of rising property taxes for commercial owners, she added.
"A lot of times small businesses are priced out, or taxed out, because they're paying more property taxes than they were before — or they're passing that on to their tenants," Burda explained.
That was a key finding from her 2018 research with the City Building Institute, which explored the impact of the last provincial property assessment.
The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation — the body that assesses all properties across Ontario — looks at how much properties are selling for around the building it is appraising to determine its current value. That MPAC value is then multiplied by the city's tax rate to determine how much the property owner will pay.
As a result, a booming real estate market like Toronto's translates into higher taxes for local businesses "anywhere where there is really rapid growth," Burda has said.
Her team discovered an alarming trend among small businesses in terms of their inability to handle the higher rates, which she said could lead to layoffs or closures in development-heavy areas.
Taylor is hoping the city will help her group avoid that kind of fate, and stressed the value her organization's education and mentorship efforts bring to the city and its community of artists, including many who are "living below the poverty line."
Ensuring the network of emerging and established artists has a home base, she added, is "so valuable and so vital to what makes Toronto a vibrant city."