The right to housing is not abstract. In Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood tenants are demanding the right to housing by organizing. This week tenants in a building on Elm Grove Avenue are celebrating after their landlord withdrew his application to raise rent above the guideline.
Two years ago the building was purchased by a developer. The sale was arranged by real estate agent Nick Brewerton, named “The Man Who Sold Parkdale” by activists.
“As soon as the sale went through myself and a couple of neighbours went to Parkdale Legal and learned about our rights,” said Ana, a tenant at the building. “We were advised to organize. The workers there talked to us about the importance of communication and unity between neighbours.”
Tenants formed a committee and demanded the landlord address disrepair at the building. Some improvements were made. But when the landlord applied to raise rents above the guideline based on the sparse upgrades, tenants responded by marching into the landlord’s uptown offices unannounced, in numbers. The tenants’ action backed the landlord down and he dropped the above guideline increase.
“Tenants in Parkdale have shown their strength by fighting together, with a series of high-profile wins,” said Martine August, professor of urban planning at University of Waterloo. According to her research, independent community organizing is stronger still when supported by agencies fighting for the same goals. “Tenant organizers have told me they could not have accomplished what they did without Parkdale Legal,” said August, “and particularly without support from Community Legal Workers, who bring resources and expertise to community-based struggles.”
When asked what advice she would give tenants looking to make a difference in their buildings and neighbourhoods, Ana had the following message:
“To all the tenants who face unjust rent increases, I suggest you contact Parkdale Legal. It is essential that you stay united and stand your ground. I am proud of my neighbors deciding to stand up to the landlord and staying on point.”