This is what gentrification really is – Part 2

Tenants Stand Up to Greedy Landlords

In my first piece about gentrification, I gave an overview of what it is and what it looks like. Thank you to Adam for responding to my piece, but I have to respectfully point out that what he described, a developing York South-Weston without displacement, is not gentrification.

Adam is right, there are ways to build up York South-Weston and make it a more safe, just and equitable community without displacing marginalized residents, but I hate to break it to everyone: that is not gentrification. But what is currently happening to York South-Weston is gentrification.

Let me reiterate, gentrification is market pressures pushing out low-income and often racially marginalized communities from a community to populate it with more affluent and often white populations. To put it simply, this is caused by rising rents, developments that don’t address the needs of the community, and big-box stores replacing mom-and-pop shops. Think of gentrification as displacement.

Gentrification is a deeply political process that doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why some of us, especially some of us who may be fortunate enough to own a home, or drive a car, or shop at Loblaws, may not feel the effects of it in our day-to-day lives. But the majority of York South-Weston does. Life is becoming more and more unaffordable for locals while inequality and development are on the rise. This is gentrification.

Over the past few months, I’ve been witness to tenants rising up against unjustified rent increases, abusive landlords and a stark lack of services.

Before I get into what’s happening in apartment buildings across York South-Weston, it’s important to note that rents always go up by 1.8% regardless of whether any improvements have been made to the building, even when the property taxes of the building are lowered, which is the case for most of the large rental buildings in York South-Weston. Tenants pay the biggest burden of property taxes, while landlords profit from lower taxes.

In 33 King, a high-rise apartment building two blocks north of the Union-Pearson Express, tenants deal with mold in their units, repairs not being dealt with, and unexpected water stoppages that are caused by the development of 22 John Street, which is directly beside 33 King. 33 King is fighting back against a 4.8% rent increase. This is a building where the last increase they faced was in 2014 and was just 0.7% above the guideline. The landlord justifies the 4.8% rent increase with cosmetic “repairs” to the building: renovating the parking garage, putting new lights in the lobby, etcetera.

However, tenants know the increase is because of the 22 John Street development – a rental building that will have zero affordable units – to accommodate its parking needs.

22 John is not only offloading the cost of renovating its parking garage for its future luxury apartments (rents are up to $1,850 for a bachelor unit, $2,400 for a two-bedroom, and no three-bedrooms) onto the low-income tenants next door at 33 King, but the building won’t be controlled by rent control thanks to new legislation put forward by our Premier that erases rent control. So not only are there no affordable units in the building, the rents will likely see drastic increases from year to year ensuring that the average York South-Westonite will never be able to live there.

In the “Twin Towers”, 1765 and 1775 Weston Road, right beside the Union-Pearson Express stop, units are now being renovated and re-rented for upwards of $1,200/month. These are practices called “reno-victing”.

At the Country Club Towers, 2460 Weston Road, tenants are paying $1,300/month for a 2-bedroom unit and $1,500 for a 3-bedroom unit. To put that into perspective, the maximum Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) rent for a 3-person household is $803 per month and there is a 9+ year waiting list for social housing.

In 2180 and 2190 Weston Road, located at Weston and Church, tenants are also dealing with very high above-guideline-increases. Once again, the landlord’s justification is renovations to the parking garage, which tenants have discovered is being rented out to a local car dealership. Since the renovation, tenants have been restricted from using the garage and lost storage space that they used to be able to rent.

The injustices happening in these buildings paint a stark picture of the housing crisis happening across York South-Weston and across the city.

So, why are people being priced-out and displaced here, in York South-Weston, a community deemed to be one of the last affordable communities in Toronto? I say: a country-wide housing crisis, the austerity of all three levels of government – a failure to invest in and act on affordable housing (social, co-op, inclusionary zoning) – unaffordable developments that don’t address the pressing needs of the community, and the fact that York South-Weston is on the brink of becoming a transit-hub.

So next time you go to a development meeting in our community and hear developers say something like, “We hope this development attracts a certain type of person to the community,” think about what that means and who they are actively working to push out, to price out, to displace, and to gentrify.

If we want to build a York South-Weston that works for everyone – one that is safe, accessible and affordable – it is incumbent upon all of us to make sure it stays affordable, to work to tackle the root causes of poverty. The problem is not the people our society allows to live in poverty; the problem is a system that pits us against each other, benefits landlords and developers, and traps people in the cycle of poverty. Housing is a human right.

In my next piece, I will explore the grand schemes developers have for York South-Weston.

This is what gentrification really is

Gentrification is a big, confusing, theoretical word for most of us – I’ve always heard at least two different definitions of it.

I’ve seen gentrification be described as the act of revitalization – breathing new “life” into a “run-down” neighbourhood through new restaurants, condos and other infrastructure projects. And I’ve seen it be described as the act of forcefully pushing longtime residents out of a neighbourhood in order to populate it with more affluence.

Quite simply, gentrification is the displacement of longtime residents of a neighbourhood that are most often low income, people of colour, and/or from other marginalized communities like women and people living with disabilities.

I’ve heard people say that gentrification is just what York South-Weston needs. I’ve heard people say that York South-Weston needs just a little bit of gentrification. And I’ve heard people say that gentrification is the next struggle that will plague York South-Weston.

This is the dictionary definition of gentrification:

the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods byupper- or middle-income families or individuals, raising property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses.”

So, is it a problem? Is York South-Weston experiencing it? The answer is yes and yes.

So what does gentrification look like then? While some York South-Westonites don’t live the effects of gentrification every day or even notice it, the reality is that the majority does. It’s already happening.

We have our fair share of systemic issues created by years of policy failure and neglect. People don’t have access to healthy and affordable food – we are in a food desert. The cost of childcare is through the roof – we are also in a childcare desert. Youth workers have told us that it’s easier for our young people to get a gun than it is for them to get affordable housing or a job.

The reality is that right here in our community, renters are being handed unfair and unjustifiable rent increases every day. York South-Weston is supposed to be one of the last affordable havens in the city but it’s getting more and more unaffordable for those of us who already live here. And it’s only going to get worse if we don’t hold developers and our elected officials accountable for the unaffordability of our neighbourhood.

What gentrification looks like is asking for a Starbucks at Weston and Lawrence when we already have Perfect Blend, Mati’s Coffee and God Bless Canada all around the corner. It’s going to a development meeting for a new “affordable” housing project and hearing the developer’s lawyer say that “they would like to attract a certain kind of person” to rent here and then hearing from the tenants in the room that the rents are in fact not actually affordable. It’s the fact that when a Loblaws or Sobeys replaces Greenland Farms, the majority of residents within a 200m radius will not be able to afford to shop at either of those grocery stores. And it’s TTC riders in Weston not being able to afford to ride the UP Express even though it’s being made a selling-point for new development in the area.

The gentrification of York South-Weston is happening and we need to think about how we will respond to it. Will we work to address the root causes of poverty and inequality that exist in our community or will we actively allow low-income and other marginalized communities to be pushed even farther away from the downtown core, out of York South-Weston?

Dave Bennett awarded volunteer of excellence award

I can still remember Dave Bennett holding up the cage of my hockey helmet as I ate a hotdog from the snack bar of Weston Arena during an intermission of a Weston Dodgers game. Stories like this one aren’t unique to me as a hockey-playing kid from Weston; I’m sure hundreds of other kids have similar stories about Dave’s compassion and patience at the arena.

From as long as I can remember, Dave has been a tireless volunteer both in the arena and out in the broader community.

Last week Dave was awarded the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education’s Parent Volunteer of Excellence Award for his dedication and advocacy efforts in getting a new school for the students of St. John the Evangelist Catholic School in Weston. When I heard about this, I couldn’t think of a better person to receive the award.

Securing the new school has been a successful, but ongoing, fight for Dave and other members of the community for years. Dave had been involved in the advocacy work every step of the way—long before the construction crews broke ground in 2014. I often get Dave to give me updates on the project, and he can tell me every single detail from the nitty-gritty of the floor plan to what’s going on with the construction process. This is just another example of his attentiveness to the “little things” that are often overlooked in community advocacy work.

His patience, dedication, and service to the community is inspiring for Weston. Thanks for all that you do, Dave! Congratulations!

Longtime York South—Weston resident and advocate to become NDP candidate

Faisal Hassan, a resident of Weston and a longtime community advocate, is set to become the NDP’s candidate in York South—Weston for the upcoming provincial election.

Hassan says that this community has given him a lot; he wants the same opportunities that he has received to be accessible to all residents of York South—Weston. He believes in job creation, addressing income inequality, public health care, affordable housing and child care, and environmental sustainability. He sees a bright future for all residents of York South—Weston.

Currently Hassan serves on the volunteer board of the Weston King Neighbourhood Centre (WKNC) in Weston, and has been an active union member. Earlier on his career, Hassan hosted a popular current affairs radio program and served on the volunteer boards of the Centre for Equality in Accommodation and Brampton’s Habitat for Humanity.

As a politically active community member, I have been able to witness Faisal’s commitment to his community. He has canvassed all the issues that we care about and that greatly impact residents of York South—Weston; universal pharmacare, labour law reform, and the privatization of hydro, among many other things.

If you would like to meet Faisal Hassan, join the York South—Weston NDP at their nomination meeting on Wednesday, November 8th, 6pm at Weston Collegiate (100 Pine Street).

Participatory budgeting bringing infrastructure to Rustic

The third and final phase of the City of Toronto’s Participatory Budgeting Pilot Project will kick off in early-September 2017.

In the final phase of the pilot, Rustic has a lot to look forward to. Several light posts, along with water bottle filling stations, will be coming to both Rustic and Maple Leaf Parks. Some of the more “fun” ideas voted in include a movie wall, which was championed by local youth, in Maple Leaf Park, and a ping pong table in Rustic Park.

Rustic, one of York South—Weston’s six Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (N.I.A.s) (formerly known as Priority Neighbourhoods), was chosen as one of the three areas in Toronto for the pilot to take place in. Rustic is located in the northwest end of the riding, bounded by the 401 to the north, Culford Road to the east, Lawrence Avenue West to the south, and Jane Street to the west.

Participatory budgeting is exactly what it sounds like; it lets members of the community decide the allocation of city funds for infrastructure. While this is the City’s first time officially trying participatory budgeting, it has been used by other cities such as Boston and New York. Toronto Community Housing also has a Participatory Budgeting program for tenants.

In Rustic, $150,000 was allocated to the N.I.A. for the project’s first phase, and $250,000 has been allocated for each of the final two phases.

Before participatory budgeting came to Rustic in 2015, most of its parks were dilapidated with worn out playground equipment and a dire need for more lighting.

The City of Toronto’s Participatory Budgeting team at the 2017 Falstaff Summerfest.

Once the final phase of the project is complete, a report will go to City Council on whether the City should continue with the project or not.

Weston should keep an eye on participatory budgeting. Like Rustic, Weston is home to several different demographic groups, and is always looking for new infrastructure. Participatory Budgeting can promote social cohesion and community relationships, but it can also expose decades-old community divisions. When involving ourselves in civic engagement, we should look to what makes the community—and city—more liveable for everyone as opposed to what might make it a little bit better in the short-term for ourselves and a few of our neighbours. This is the lesson that participatory budgeting teaches.

If you want to see the full list of ideas or if you live in Rustic, you can submit ideas here.

Weston Collegiate grad to study at Yale in September

Studying in the United States “had always been a big dream” of Debbie Dada’s. She’s “grateful” for the opportunity to do so in September.

Debbie recently graduated from the International Baccalaureate program at Weston Collegiate and she will be studying Global Affairs while doing pre-medical school requirements at Yale University. In the future, she plans to work in global health, specifically for the World Health Organization.

She says that she’s had a “really amazing” experience at Weston Collegiate, having made several strong connections with both students and staff. One staff, Mr. Reid, in particular. He was the staff adviser to to the African-Canadian Leadership Committee, which was one of the first clubs Debbie joined at Weston. “He’s been such a great inspiration and help in this journey—especially in this limbo that is high school where you’re trying to make so many important decisions.”

Not only is Debbie a leader in her school, but she is also one within the York South—Weston community.

In early-2016, along with Shaimaa Helal, Debbie created Find Your Path, a grassroots organization that provides motivational resources and scholarships to students that are the first in their family to pursue post-secondary education. The 2017 scholarship application recently launched. Please email [email protected] for the application.

Since having created her youth-led initiative, she has been working with For Youth Initiative, a local non-profit organization that serves York South—Weston youth. “I’ve seen the journey of Find Your Path. Debbie is one of the main reasons why we started our youth-led network,” said Saron Sahlu, the Youth Incubator Case Lead at For Youth Initiative. “She’s written grants and attended several meetings for the network.”

Good luck, Debbie! Weston is proud of you!