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Months-long Toronto rent strike ends in win for tenants – VICE News


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More than 300 tenants and their landlord have reached a deal in a months-long Toronto rent strike that cuts to the heart of global gentrification pressures.

Declaring victory, the tenants finalized a deal Friday with landlord MetCap Living that will see the company substantially reduce the rent increase it sought, Cole Webber, a community legal worker, told VICE News. The deal also includes a commitment by the landlord to complete required maintenance, and the creation of a new fund administered by MetCap and its investor Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) that will allow tenants on income assistance to apply to reduce their rent further.

The details of the deal, including exact numbers, remain confidential. But the strike speaks to a growing backlash on the part of tenants, who are feeling the crush of rising housing costs, and see rising rents as a move to push them out entirely. This year, protests against high rent and gentrification have also swept Montreal and Vancouver, where tenants have called rent increases of as much as 43 percent unfair.

In Toronto, MetCaps proposal for an above-guideline rent increase prompted 200 residents in seven buildings to stage a rent strike May 1, joined by another 100 renters in five other buildings on June 1.

In some buildings, MetCap sought a 3 percent rent hike each year for three years, on top of the 1.5 percent maximum rent hike set out in provincial guidelines for 2017. Those provincial guidelines are supposed to offer a cap on rent increases, but building owners can apply to raise rents higher if they claim the buildings need maintenance which is what MetCap did.

The provincial cap is tied to inflation, which currently sits at about 1.5 percent, and is slated to go up to 1.8 percent next year.

We have to accept change to a certain point. But we decided to fight back.

The hikes meant that some tenants couldve seen their rent go up from $1,000 to $1,150 for a bachelor, Webber said.

Never been involved in a protest before in my life, Barb Livesay, a tenant who went on strike in one of the buildings, told VICE News. The woman who lives on disability payments would have seen her rent go up by about $30, stretching her already tight budget. We have to accept change to a certain point. But we decided to fight back.

The strike was marked by protests at MetCaps Toronto headquarters in March, and solidarity pickets by students and teachers at schools in the Parkdale neighbourhood, where the buildings are located. Tensions with the landlord hit a boiling point in late May when MetCaps president nearly hit a protester with his truck.

MetCaps CEO and president Brent Merrill told VICE News that accusations MetCap wanted to increase the rent to evict tenants were absolutely false.

However we have heard in our talks that certain residents are concerned about their ability to pay the increases, he said. We are developing a plan to make those increases more manageable and to help those residents in need manage current and future increases.

We are developing a plan to make those increases more manageable.

Rent strikes have a long history worldwide from the no-rent movement in New York City in the 1840s and the Irish Land war in the 1880s to a wave of rent strikes responding to the urban housing crisis in the US in the 60s and 70s to current rent strikes like those staged across the UK by more than 1,000 university students last fall.

A variety of factors are pushing housing prices up in Canada: Continued migration from rural areas into cities, foreign investors parking their cash in the (relatively) stable Canadian market, the advent of short-term rental websites like Airbnb, the craze of house-flipping, and the availability of cheap credit have all contributed to the rising housing and rental prices.

After a decade of single-digit growth, housing prices in Toronto in 2016 jumped more than 17 percent over the year prior, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board. Vancouvers housing board reported that housing prices jumped over 40 percent from January 2015 to the same time a year later. Those sorts of price increases have put heavy pressure on the rental market.

Neighbourhoods like Torontos Parkdale, which has been a pocket of low rent housing for decades, is now facing gentrification and increasing rents.

Livesay, a tenant in a MetCap building at 135 Tyndall Avenue, across the street from VICEs bustling Liberty Village office, hailed Thursdays agreement as a win.

Im very happy, she told VICE News. Weve been able to get a fair negotiation with the amount of the increase and get maintenance issues addressed.

Livesay resides in a cozy bachelor on the sixth floor of a MetCap apartment block one of many similar buildings erected in Parkdale in the 50s and 60s, and home to low-income families, new immigrants and people living on disability payments. Livesay herself relies on a monthly disability cheque of about $1,300, which stretches just enough to cover her $776 rent, plus phone, cable and hydro, and $25 to $50 a week for groceries. In the past, she has relied on a food bank to get by. Her budget also has to account for her 12-year-old Terrier mix, Mork.

So Im not left with anything, and of course Mork is an aging dog so its costing me more for special food and vet bills.

MetCaps proposed rent increase would have bumped up her rent by $30, an increase she says isnt fair given issues with roaches, mice and even bedbugs in the building. She pulls up her sleeve to show white scars on her arm from the bedbug outbreak in her previous apartment on the first floor of the same building. She added that earlier this year her apartment flooded from a leak on the seventh floor, and it took the landlord six months to fix her bulging floor tiles.

Merrill said he was unable to respond to the allegations unless VICE News provided an apartment number and tenant name so he could do a proper investigation. He said the company had a very strong maintenance program and customer help line.

There is no way if a resident filled out a work order or contacted our personnel or help line that any required work would not be done.

Livesay moved to the building three and a half years ago when Mississauga became too expensive. In the short years shes lived here, Parkdale has changed. Liberty Village is creeping closer, and we have our first Starbucks, she said. Developers are proposing new condo buildings at King and Dufferin, around the corner from her house.

This is the only place I can afford now that rents are going so high, she said. I know Im best to stay here. And it has to be a pet friendly building for as long as my guys going to hang around with me, she adds. As if on cue, Mork shakes himself and his collar jangles.

Were just really excited its over.

Livesay believes Parkdales rent strike could gain momentum in other cities. She has advice for other tenants facing rent increases.

Start with having lobby meetings, getting the tenants together to discuss their concerns, she said. Thats the main part be organized with the support of your neighbours.

The rent strike brought her closer with her neighbours, many of whom she didnt know before. Now she chats with them regularly, and one of them even put her down as an emergency contact.

Its been a huge community effort, she concluded. Were just really excited its over.

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Months-long Toronto rent strike ends in win for tenants – VICE News

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