Have your say about rental apartment licensing

When I was a young lad in some dim and distant past, rental apartment buildings were glamorous creatures. They were modern, had great views, lots of room and everything was included in the rent. Most had a sauna and outdoor pool. For gosh sakes they even had laundry facilities in the basement!

Then in the 1970s, the practice of subsidizing tenants in rental apartments was a cheaper alternative to building public housing. Poor people flooded apartment buildings and with rising incomes, middle-income earners began to abandon rental housing. For the most part, rental apartments became the domain of the poor and were synonymous with shabby conditions and health issues. Conditions steadily deteriorated and ten years ago, in Weston, the two towers at 1765 and 1775 Weston Road were in atrocious condition and the subject of bitter complaints. The federal government stepped in with forgivable loans and millions were spent upgrading rental buildings.

1765 Weston Road in 2012 (file).
1765 Weston Road pictured in 2012 (file).

Nowadays, renting is the only option for many people in the current real-estate market. While conditions have improved, many buildings are poorly maintained and it is felt that legislation concerning these buildings needs an overhaul.

The City of Toronto wants to hear from its citizens about licensing rental apartment buildings. according to the City,

The intended goal of the licensing framework is to build on the current Multi-Residential Apartment Building Audit Program by promoting best practices in building maintenance, strengthening enforcement of property standards violations, and improving tenant engagement and access to information.

The public and stakeholders will have an opportunity to:
• contribute to establishing goals and objectives for a licensing framework
• create recommendations related to current challenges and/or gaps in regulation; rules governing the operations of rental apartment buildings such as maintenance and cleaning plans; enhancement of the current building audit program, including enforcement of property standards; and improved public access to information about rental buildings, and
• submit their own recommendations for improving tenant living conditions.

The meeting for our area will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, August 24: Etobicoke Civic Centre, 399 The West Mall, Meeting Room 1/2/3, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Developers, start your engines.

Toronto’s new(ish) Police Chief Mark Saunders came to Weston / Mount Dennis on Tuesday with Mayor Tory to gauge community response to the re-alignment of police division boundaries along with the possible closure of 12 Division’s headquarters scheduled for 2018. (according to CP24)

In fact, according to the Interim Report approved at July’s Police Board meeting, 12 Division (along with several others) will disappear as it becomes amalgamated. How that process will work is rather vague.

The boundaries of 12 Division.
The current boundaries of Toronto Police’s 12 Division.

Here’s a look (below) at the affected Toronto police divisions according to CP24.

A look at the future of Toronto's police divisions.
Original map adapted by Roy Murray.

Saunders was no doubt hired with the understanding that the billion dollar police budget had to be trimmed, but like his predecessors has dragged his heels. John Tory, mayor of one of the lowest taxed cities in the country is currently asking for a 2.6% across the board budget cut to every city department so he can bring in ‘an at or below inflation’ tax increase.

It’s well known that when City budget cuts come, they disproportionally affect the poor along with areas where large numbers of poor people live. User fees go up, services get slashed and the TTC is ordered to cut back on crowded suburban routes. Mayor Tory is simply another slash and burn, subway loving member of Ford nation albeit with a better grip on P.R. (Ignore the bazillion acre park across the rail lands; it’s a distraction). The Mayor and his rich friends don’t like paying property taxes on their mansions and so the poor must bear the burden.

A satellite view of 12 Division HQ.
A satellite view of 12 Division HQ.

What’s a police chief to do? Learn from the fine example set by politicians and look for savings from people who don’t make as much of a fuss. The police station currently occupied by 12 Division is on a large piece of real estate with excellent highway connections. Wouldn’t it be a great place for a high rise apartment building or two? It even has enough room for parking. Dress the sale up as a ‘modernization of police services’ and police ‘becoming more accessible’ and you have the makings of a fine sales job.

Developers must be salivating at prospect of owning the site. Toronto City Council would smooth all hurdles out of the way and the sale of police assets would trim the Chief’s bloated budget for now while being framed as greater contact with the community. Win Win Win!

Some key words come in the Chief’s Interim Report executive summary.

In the months leading up to our final report, we will continue to look for responsible measures that can yield additional reductions, savings, and real estate returns.

and more tellingly, The full interim report says this:

Through the redesign of boundaries and facilities, we have identified up to $72 million in real estate that could be returned to the City of Toronto.

As we conduct the next phase of our work we will look for other similar opportunities.

A close-up of the property. Lots of room for a high rise and it even has parking. Photo from Google Earth.
A close-up of the property. Lots of room for a high rise, great road connections and it even has ample parking. Photo from Google Earth.

Given past knowledge of previous public asset sales, developers are no doubt lining up with proposals and part of the deal will have to include a crumb or two for the community.

Make no mistake, without a strong community response, 12 Division Headquarters will be sold.

It may already be too late.

Will this be a bad thing? Who knows. Tim Hortons across the street from the station will certainly suffer. (My bad. Tim’s has already moved – see comments section.)

If the goal truly is to provide more contact with the community, then it may not be the end of the world although we don’t know how that will be achieved. Several storefront locations (if implemented) might be a better alternative than a large fortress of a building, but local residents will have to fight long and hard for these and we don’t even know what exactly is planned since the report is merely ‘interim’. There’s certainly no shortage of empty storefronts in Weston / Mount Dennis. A police presence might revitalize our communities. (Where will all those cruisers go?)

It might be a good idea for Chief Saunders and the Mayor to clarify how the consolidation process will take place and what steps will be taken to ensure that community assets are not being turned over to the private sector simply to protect property owners from a long needed tax increase.

People also need to feel confident that this is not a back of the napkin job like the Mayor’s fatuous SmartTrack plans and that we aren’t blundering into a chaotic future.

A kinder gentler Ford Nation?

Michael Ford.
Michael Ford. Photo from Twitter.

The death of former Toronto Mayor and Ward 2 councillor Rob Ford created a vacancy which was filled last night by his 22 year-old nephew, the former Michael Stirpe. Last year Mr. Ford legally switched to the more recognizable maiden name of his mother Kathy and hasn’t looked back since. He won a trustee seat in the 2014 civic election and now this.

The by-election wasn’t close; Ford was pitted against an assorted collection of mostly fringe candidates and swatted them aside with almost 70% of the vote. By-election voting numbers are usually low and this was no exception. Ten-thousand fewer people bothered to turn up compared to last time and indeed, in 2014, Rob Ford alone garnered more votes than all candidates combined in 2106.

Mr. Ford campaigning yesterday supported by former Tory MPs Julian Faction (R) and Ted Opitz (L foreground)
Mr. Ford (centre) campaigning yesterday aided by former Tory MPs Julian Fantino (R rear) and Ted Opitz (L centre). Photo from Twitter.

What can we expect from young Mr. Ford? Will he join the ranks of the Mammolitis and Di Cianos to be another right-wing vote on Council? The answer is probably yes. Mr. Ford presents as a thoughtful young man who appears to be in favour of social justice; yet, in spite of huge levels of poverty in Ward 2 that approach those of our adjacent Ward 12, Mr. Ford spouts the same idiotic mantra of lower property taxes. This is precisely the misguided policy that leads to cutting services that benefit poor people the most.

Only time will tell if Mr. Ford will learn the reality of Toronto politics and understand the need for local politicians to focus on maintaining services and providing opportunities for people to pull themselves out of poverty. Other desirable traits, sadly lacking in many councillors are to act for the betterment of the whole city, defer to good planning and help the weak.

Will he become yet another friend of the development industry and an enemy of services that help level the playing field for the less fortunate – or will he realize that keeping property taxes low only helps the rich and reduces social mobility?

There may be hope that he’ll be a thoughtful, progressive and hard-working councillor. Let’s focus on that for now.

The Farmers’ Market is wilting

IMG_2790Many vendors at the new location of the Farmers’ Market say that their businesses are suffering. Several people told me that their business is down 1/3 or more, even while the rents have gone up. One vendor said he will be closing; another said he is considering it.

Almost everyone I spoke to was cautious about upsetting the market administrators, so I’m going to quote them all as a group.

  • The market was the heart and soul of Weston. They destroyed it.
  • Sales are down 50%
  • It has slowed down. Sales are down.
  • I’m done.
  • More people gotta come out.
  • This year, they don’t know where we are. [They need] more advertising.
  • It sucks.

Some vendors, however, were more positive.

  • We’ve been doing better here.
  • The area is bigger.
  • It’s better than last year. For the couple of weeks, it’s been good.

Several vendors have come and gone already this year: the hip pie people seem to have left, as did the popcorn company.

There is a lot of blame to go around. Some vendors said it’s too far to walk for those who have limited mobility. Others blamed the administration. And, dear reader, you and I share some responsibility.

Your correspondent, however, believes that the BIA could do more. Certainly, it is hard to see why rents went up; given the disruption, they should have gone down. There should be much more advertising, including along the 401¹. We could have beer tastings², or bring back the live music.

Masum Hossain, the Chair of the BIA, refused to be quoted for this article.

View the responses.

¹ Peter the Barber’s idea.

² Also his idea.

 

York Community Centre delayed again

An artist's concept of the much anticipated Centre.
An artist’s concept of the much anticipated Centre.

The York Community Centre currently under construction at Black Creek and Eglinton is a facility that will contain:

a six lane 25 metre pool with ramp, shallow leisure tot pool with water spray and splash features with ramp and stair access, double sized gymnasium, weight room, indoor running track, fitness studio, universal change rooms, kitchen, and multi-purpose rooms of varying sizes, to provide quality programs for all ages. The building has a green roof and was designed to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standing. (From Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation).

The location of the new centre.
The location of the new centre at Eglinton Avenue and Black Creek Drive.

The original opening date was scheduled for winter 2014/15 but was pushed back to this June. Now, according to Councillor Nunziata the opening of the much anticipated community centre has been delayed thanks to ‘supply issues with critical components of the project’. The opening is now slated for some time in the fall. As a result, summer camp programs that were to be based there will be moved to Centennial Recreation Centre West (2694 Eglinton Ave. West). All other YRC summer recreation programs included in the Fun Guide will not be available.

Scotiabank gives Weston one last wedgie.

Screen-Shot-2016-03-15-at-6.35

Right at the corner of Weston and Lawrence sits a unique wedge shaped building that has been there for decades. On July 22nd, the occupant, Scotiabank, will be pulling out of 1885 Weston Road in an attempt (one presumes) to maximize shareholder value. This in spite of earnings up a healthy 6% over the first quarter of last year.

Our local politicians can blather all they want about the evils of payday loan companies in the area but here is a profitable, successful corporation demonstrating that it cares so little about its customers, they can now do their banking at the next closest branches at Weston and Eglinton or Lawrence and Keele – a hefty hike or a $6.00 round trip by TTC. These are the same compassionate folks who recently cut hundreds of jobs in Alberta.

For those of us who don’t use Scotiabank or who do their banking electronically this is probably not a big deal. For low income folks, this is another push towards payday loan companies. Many seniors are not comfortable banking by computer and will be severely inconvenienced by this closure. In addition, as a sign of confidence in Weston’s emergence from decades of neglect, this is a terrible setback. No doubt yet another payday loan company will open in its place.

If I was Councillor Frances Nunziata, MPP Laura Albanese or our non-resident MP Ahmed Hussen, I would be in front of the branch waving placards protesting the closure – in fact I’ll be happy to be part of any such demonstration should any of these representatives wish to show their displeasure and shame Scotiabank for their vote of non-confidence in our community. Embarrassing Scotiabank is probably the only way to get any reconsideration especially if as a result, people decide to move their money to the remaining banks in the area; TD Canada Trust, RBC and BMO.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada is interested in hearing from customers who will be inconvenienced by this move: 1-866-461-3222.

If you would like to express your displeasure to Scotiabank directly, call 1-888-722-3970.

And finally, a quote from the lovely folks at Scotiabank:

Although our reach is global, our energies are focused on individual customers, employees, and shareholders, and on building a strong community presence.

YSW NDP AGM

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 10.12.19 AMNext Monday, March 21 will see the annual general meeting of York South-Weston’s New Democrats. On the agenda will be the task of electing a new executive.

Guest speaker will be Peter Tabuns, NDP parliamentary critic on the environment and education.

  • Date: Monday March 21
  • Time: 6:30 – 9:30 pm
  • Place: York Civic Centre, 2700 Eglinton Avenue West.

For more details read here.