This Toronto landlord has only raised rent by $100 — since the 1980s
Downtown apartments going for as little as $800 per month, thanks to novelist David Kendall
Fifteen houses along Niagara Street were awarded protection as heritage homes just before Christmas, thanks in part to one local landlord.
"He's a very unique soul," Coun. Mike Layton said at the Dec. 2 meeting of the Toronto and East York Community Council.
"And to know that soul is going to live on forever on Niagara Street is such a beautiful thing."
That "unique soul" is David Kendall, a novelist and longtime Toronto Sun journalist.
For the past 10 years, he's been lobbying the city to do what many landlords fight against — designate the five Niagara Street houses he owned as heritage sites — a title that protects them from demolition or major renovations unless owners obtain special permission from the city's heritage department.
As well, Kendall makes a point of charging rents that are so low by the standards of today's real estate market that another local councillor — Joe Cressy — recently referred to him as "a true gem."
"This is the spirit of our city encapsulated in the form of a property owner," Cressy said.
Kendall and his wife Grecia owned five of the houses that run along the south side of Niagara Street between Bathurst and Tecumseh streets for more than 30 years. They were bought in part with the proceeds from his first novel, Lazaro.
In September, he sold one of the houses on the condition that the buyer continue to pursue heritage designation for the property.
The 15 newly designated homes, including Kendall's four, were built between 1885 and 1886.
"If you've survived 100 years, it's because you're something beautiful," Kendall told CBC Toronto recently. "You've become rooted in the soil."
As for his ultra low rent, Kendall said he's grateful to past tenants who helped him and his wife pay off the mortgages, and he wants to pay it forward.
Each of his four houses is divided into two one-bedroom apartments. The upper units rent for $800 per month, the lower units for $900.
Kendall bought the homes over a five-year period beginning in 1983. Since then, monthly rates for a unit have only increased by $100, far less than increases in comparable accommodations in the west end. He says he recently heard of a similar house nearby renting for $4,800 a month.
"The years have gone by and I've been lucky," he said.
"Grecia and I believe in what [former U.S. president Barack] Obama called tethered capitalism — you have to make enough to live, and make something, but you don't have to go for maximum; don't go for the jugular."
And his tenants seem to appreciate it.
Kendall recalled one long-time tenant who moved out about six years ago. She'd saved enough by then to afford a house of her own, and now — she told Kendall in a recent email — she and her new husband are renting out the basement of their home at a very low rate.
"I thought to myself, 'That's the loveliest email I've ever received,'" he said. "I wept."
A current tenant, Robby Vrenozi, says she is also grateful.
"It's very kind, so kind," she said. "It's fantastic to be able to live in the heart of downtown Toronto."
Friends in similar apartments are paying up to three times more in rent, said Vrenozi, who's been in her apartment for three years and has no intention of leaving any time soon.
Councillors at the community council meeting recommended that the properties be designated city heritage homes, a recommendation that was approved by council at its Dec. 17 meeting.
- Owner demolishes home day before heritage eligibility
- Councillor, residents frustrated at demolition of 110-year-old building
But Kendall said he is not done yet.
"What I'm really hoping is that they'll designate the whole street, make it into a heritage street," he said.
'Little works of art'
Kendall no longer lives in downtown Toronto. He and Grecia settled in rural southern Ontario, and he's keenly aware of the need to maintain the green belt. That means the city needs to grow upward, rather than out.
"I'm happy they're building towers in downtown Toronto," he said recently.
"On the other hand, I want those people who are living in those towers [to] look out of 10,000 windows, and their gazes will slide down these long lines of glass and metal and concrete, and all of a sudden they'll stop. They'll be caught by these little works of art, these little Mona Lisas, that are completely separate in form from everything else that's around them."