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Displacement in Parkdale: Gentrification, Resistance and Change

October 13th, 2015     by Sula Sidnell-Greene     Comments

Photo by Marc Falardeau, Creative Commons by 2.0

On Monday September 21st nearly a hundred community members gathered at Toronto’s Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre (PARC) to discuss gentrification-driven displacement. Parkdale residents spoke about their experiences with illegal evictions, unjust rent increases and the encroachment of developers. The Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust (PNLT) hosted the community forum in an effort to address the issue of gentrification and the need for affordable housing and services.

At the beginning of the evening, a speaker from PNLT explained what the process of gentrification involves and what it means for the community. Gentrification was defined as:

“…the buying and renovating of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighbourhoods by wealthier individuals, which in effect improves property values but also can displace low-income families and small businesses”

The discussion focused on the effect of gentrification on low-income families, including the risk of eviction as condo developers purchase properties, renovate, and evict long-term tenants.

Most of the evening’s discussion was centered around the dislocation of the residents of the Queen’s Hotel on Roncesvalles. On July 31st of this year, tenants of the hotel (which is more of a rooming house) were given a one-week eviction notice. Despite the new landlord’s claims that tenants would be welcomed back after renovations, most of the tenants live month to month on social assistance and will likely be unable to afford to return. At the forum, community members spoke of their experiences of harassment during their eviction and the months leading up to it. They described the difficulty in locating housing options with the short notice they were given. They noted that if the Red Cross had not put them up temporarily in a hotel, they would likely be homeless. According to many of the speakers, most former tenants of the Queen’s Hotel are still looking for permanent residence.

What happened at the Queen’s Hotel is just one example of gentrification driven displacement. As property value rises in Parkdale, long-time residences are being pushed out. Alongside this issue is the state of Ontario’s affordable housing waitlist. Since 2006, the list has grown at an incredible rate with more than 168,000 households in line for affordable housing. According to the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, individuals, seniors or families seeking housing with rent tied to their income will wait, on average, nearly four years. The average wait time in Toronto is even higher at six years. As the waitlist breaks historical records for wait times, the need to resist gentrification and hold on to existing residences becomes more pressing.

The evolution of Parkdale speaks to this critical connection between government policy, planning and poverty.

For the first half of the 20th century this West end Toronto neighborhood was an exclusive, high-income residential area. Because of its close proximity to Lake Ontario and the Canadian National Exhibition, wealthy Torontonians flocked to the large Victorian homes. The Great Depression inevitably ended the era of residential construction in Parkdale. According to a 2005 study by Tom Slater,

“the housing conversions taking place before and after the Second World War led to a significant increase of working-class tenants, and generated a moral panic about threats to the middle-class, ‘nuclear-family’ way of living. In the 1950s, South Parkdale was labeled a slum by the media and local government, legitimizing the ‘slum clearance’ that would be facilitated by the construction of the Gardiner Expressway [in the 1960s].”

Another factor in the social geography of Parkdale was its closeness to the Queen Street Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH). With the widespread promotion of “deinstitutionalization of psychiatric patients” the provincial government supported the discharge of thousands to Parkdale. The refusal by the provincial government to provide adequate and affordable housing contributed to the growth of bachelorette apartments and boarding homes.

Despite this history of marginalization and governmental failure, Parkdale is a diverse and vibrant community. Over 40 percent of residents in Ward 14 (Parkdale – High Park) are migrants, 25 percent of which migrated to Canada since 2006. According to the PNLT, “[the neighbourhood] is changing rapidly. This change is not inherently good or bad, but it raises important questions about affordability, diversity, and community assets in Parkdale.” Like in the past, both commercial and governmental actors have influenced this change.

This past spring, property manager Akelius Canada applied to raise rents in an apartment complex at 188 Jameson by nearly five percent. This hike was challenged by a group of tenants who claimed they would be unable to afford their homes if it were to be approved by the Landlord and Tenant Board. In July, the same property manager agreed to a 50,000 dollar settlement to a group of tenants living in their properties at 188 Jameson, 99 Tyndall Ave., 77 Spencer Ave., and 95 Jameson. This settlement came after a long battle with Akelius over maintenance neglect. The allegations submitted to the Landlord and Tenant board stated that the replacement of superintendents with tenant hotlines had deteriorated the quality of their residence.

Many of the people living in Akelius’ newly acquired properties are Tibetan refugees or members of other migrant communities. Akelius has been accused of intentionally evading tenants demanding repairs in order to push out low-income residents.

While Akelius makes it increasingly difficult for residents to hold on to their homes, the Canadian government has forcibly removed another significant group from Parkdale. Beginning in 2008, hundreds of Hungarian Roma families migrated to Parkdale and young students flooded the halls of neighborhood schools. However, due to the Federal Government’s dismantling of Canada’s refugee system in 2012, deportations have been widespread. Due to Bill C-31, refugee status claims are significantly more difficult now that Hungary is on Canada’s safe countries list.

A number of attendees at Monday night’s community forum called for a national housing policy. While Canada remains without such a policy, community organizers are attempting to fill that void with grassroots solutions. The PNLT is a community-controlled charity, one that is gaining momentum. Part of the group’s vision is perpetual affordability:

We believe that access to affordable land ensures long-term housing security, inclusive economic opportunities, and vital community programs and services for current and future generations.

PNLT is a community-led reaction to gentrification. By prioritizing community, affordability and democratic planning, PNLT and its partner organizations are working hard to resist gentrification in favour of positive and meaningful growth for all.

Join the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust for their annual general meeting October 28!

Tags: activist report, news flash

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