Tenants at a Toronto rooming house who are concerned about being evicted from their downtown building say they plan to keep fighting for a roof over their heads.
Joseph Da Silva, a tenant at the Inglewood Arms, 295 Jarvis St., north of Dundas Street East, told reporters at a news conference on Monday that the tenants are feeling pressured to move out of their units. A developer wants to tear down the building and build a 36-storey condo tower on the site.
Da Silva said the tenants want guaranteed places to live in the proposed condo, with rent comparable to what they pay now and compensation for being displaced. The rezoning application by Minto Communities Canada, a real estate company based in Ottawa, has not yet been approved by the city.
“We’re not trying to halt development in the city,” said Da Silva, who pays about $925 a month in rent.
“We simply want to want to find our place in the city. We don’t believe that it’s to anybody’s benefit that we be tossed out on the streets,” he said.
“We believe we have something to contribute to the city and that the society will be better with us in it than by excluding us and moving us to the outskirts.”
The Inglewood Arms, a licensed rooming house, has about 100 tenants, many of whom are low income and have lived there a long time.
Da Silva, who has lived there for more than 10 years, said its tenants pay anywhere from $800 to $1,300 a month. He said the building is safe.
“This is our home,” he added. He said the tenants have been told they would be given notice and an organization would help them move to another location.
“What we seek is to return to the new building,” he said. “A great many people in the Inglewood Arms are incredibly sick. A lot of us are on long-term disability. Some will not make the new building. And some have been forgotten,” he said.
“We are asking the city to help us.”
Da Silva said members of his family and doctors are in the area and that’s why he wants to stay.
According to the rezoning application, filed in May 2018, the condo would contain 351 apartment units and five levels of below-grade parking.
In June 2019, the city adopted a policy, known as the Official Planning Amendment 453, that protects rooming house residents in case of evictions. The policy enables the city to preserve rooming house stock.
A month later, a group of developers, including Minto Communities Canada, appealed the rooming house protection policy to the provincial Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), which held a hearing on the challenge on Monday.
Da Silva won “party standing” at that hearing, which means he has the right to call witnesses and experts, cross-examine, move motions and make arguments, according to Brendan Jowett, a staff lawyer at Neighbourhood Legal Services, a community legal clinic.
A second hearing is scheduled for May 29.
Jowett told CBC Toronto that party standing gives tenants “a seat at the table” and it is better than participant status because it enables tenants to do more than make written submissions.
“Our goal is to get Joseph’s story before the tribunal,” Jowett said.
Jowett said the policy is important because rooming houses are “almost exclusively” affordable housing and they house low-income, vulnerable people.
“It says these people have a place in our community … and it basically ensures that folks aren’t just getting tossed to the street,” he said.
Minto says application predates policy
In a statement to CBC Toronto, Minto Communities Canada said it formally advised the tribunal that it is not opposed to requests for party or participant status from members of the public. The company also notes that it is not the only landowner involved in the appeal of the policy.
“With regard to the proposed dwelling room replacement policies, the Official Plan Amendment (“OPA”) 453 is currently in proceedings in front of the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (“LPAT”) and is being appealed by multiple Land Owners, the University of Toronto and others,” the statement reads.
“Minto Communities’ rezoning application for 295 Jarvis, submitted in May 2018, predates the enactment of OPA 453 and as a result, consistent with past City and LPAT practices and precedent, Minto Communities is taking the position that OPA 453 does not apply to the 295 Jarvis rezoning application,” it continues.
Minto also says it’s in settlement discussions with the city and is prepared to compensate “any existing long term occupants of the Inglewood Arms Hotel in excess of what the law currently requires, subject to City and LPAT approval.”
Local councillor supports tenants in their fight
Kristyn Wong-Tam, councillor for Ward 13, Toronto Centre, said in a post on Twitter that she supports the tenants and she is opposed to the condo development. She said she also opposes the legal challenge of the city’s rooming house protection policy by the landowners.
“If Minto win their appeal, it will be a signal to developers that they can evict rooming house tenants, without consequence, and replace our most deeply affordable housing with luxury condos,” she said.
“I support their fight and my sincere hope that the Tribunal will ultimately favour the human right to affordable housing, over profit for a wealthy developer.”
The tenants also want Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board to affirm that the provincial Residential Tenancies Act applies to them. Their landlord, a numbered company, 462226 Ontario Ltd., has asked the board to rule that the act does not cover rooming house tenants. A hearing at the board on the issue has been scheduled for March 11.
A spokesperson for 462226 Ontario Ltd. was not available to comment on Monday.