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Parkdale residents enter second month on rent strike, protest at building owner’s home

By: 
Kevin Taghabon

June 6, 2017

On June 1, Parkdale residents from MetCap Living-owned buildings entered their second month on rent strike. Residents of the vibrant Toronto neighbourhood staged a demonstration June 3 outside the Forest Hill home of Guy Alberga, co-owner of four of the buildings on strike. Outside Alberga’s multimillion dollar estate tenants communicated their campaign demands: MetCap must drop the above-guideline rent increases (AGIs), end the practice of pursuing AGIs, and complete all outstanding repairs. Chants and signs included “No Respect? No Rent!” and “Parkdale – Nevertheless, They Persisted.” There are currently well over 1000 people participating in the strike, with no signs of slowing down. Six buildings have newly joined as of June 1.

The neighbourhood of Parkdale is no stranger to combating neglect and gentrification efforts delivered by their landlords. They have previously successfully taken on Wynn Residential and Akelius. Parkdale Organize has had residents and volunteers knocking on thousands of doors and delivering tens of thousands of newsletters about the ongoing strike.

AGIs have been pursued yearly for the past five years at the buildings, including this year when MetCap applied for the maximum possible AGI rent increase. Residents at 87 Jameson refused to cow to their demands and organized a rent strike. MetCap retaliated by refusing to attend a tribunal hearing on the matter, which had to be postponed.

Parkdale’s Strength, Diversity aid Toronto

Teresa and Tom, two members of Parkdale Organize, spoke at a public event and discussion last week about the ongoing strike. “Parkdale tenants are so successful because they speak from their lived experience,” explained Teresa. “They’re not committed to illusions that don’t speak to their interests.” The organization and momentum behind the strike is organic. “This has not been a process where the organizers are trying to prod people in a direction,” said Tom. “People are so down with this. It’s surprising how militant people are in the neighbourhood.” There has also been discussion among residents about taking inspiration from other movements in the city and escalating their tactics over time. “It’s been hands off, democratic…people have just taken this on and run with it.”

Tom correctly described Parkdale as one of the last neighbourhoods in Toronto that working class and immigrant families can afford to live in, home to large Polish, Tibetan, Syrian, and Vietnamese communities among others. “It has often been called the landing strip for newcomers and refugees…from all over the world…Many rural Ontarians attempting to start a new life in the big city come to Parkdale.” The value of the people living in this community cannot be overstated. “These are the people whose labour makes this city happen every day, whether cleaning hotel rooms, driving cabs, stocking retail shelves, or serving meals. This city cannot function without these people.” For example, two thirds of imported food going to Eastern Canada comes in through the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto. A large portion of those workers are Parkdale residents.

MetCap, CEO neglectful and hostile

Most residents are spending between a third and half of their income on rent. Despite this, MetCap continues to apply for AGIs while neglecting the poor living conditions of their buildings. Tenants have coined a term for their behaviour – “renoviction”. This process includes:

  • Firing the superintendent
  • Refusing to respond to repair requests, including water and heating issues, holes, and mobility concerns
  • Allowing rats and cockroaches to fester, then blaming the tenants for having poor hygiene
  • Raising rent prices as fast and as much as possible
  • Harassing and intimidating tenants who raise concerns by threatening eviction, especially targeting those who have a language barrier

Contrast this with the lavish lifestyle of MetCap CEO Brent Merrill, who collects classic cars, one of which cost him $375,000. Merrill recently made headlines for his inability to control either his vehicle or his temper. A confused police officer at the protest outside Guy Alberga’s house asked an organizer why Parkdale Organize and residents chose there to protest. “Cars and humans don’t mix too well,” she enlightened him as luxury vehicles inched past the large crowd. “We know, because this guy, Brent Merrill actually ran one of our tenant organizers down with his pickup on Tuesday,” she told him. “He stared him in the eye and then accelerated. You’ll have a police report about it because the police were there too after he fled the scene.”

That incident was sparked by Parkdale residents’ upset about the disrespectful treatment of their elderly neighbours by MetCap. An 82-year-old long term resident Woodbury Main and his spouse (both on fixed incomes) were to have their apartment painted for the first time in years. MetCap provided them with a scant $100 and told them they would need to vacate their homes a minimum of two nights. This amount doesn’t come close to paying for livable lodging for two people anywhere in Toronto. Main said in an interview with The Toronto Star “we’re paying big rent. They’re making big money. Why can’t we live happy?”

In addition, Merrill has refused to meet with residents regarding these issues but insists that MetCap routinely responds to all repair requests. N4 notices (the first step towards eviction) have started to be delivered to striking residents in the meantime. According to Tom, MetCap intends to evict all residents “in one fell swoop”, which would include hundreds of refugees, pensioners, single mothers, people with disabilities, and young children and their families.

Parkdale residents pose direct challenge to MetCap

Parkdale residents’ efforts have gone so far without an official response from MetCap, but they are being heard. On May 15 Brent Merrill and other corporate landlords at the Federation of Rental Housing Providers of Ontario were “so unsettled at the thought they’d have to face a group of tenants who had gathered to deliver their message of affordable housing at the Ontario Landlords Association Annual General Meeting…that they cancelled their AGM,” said Teresa.

The labour movement also has a direct role to play in pressuring MetCap. AIMCO (Alberta Investment Management Corporation) invests in MetCap and their buildings. They are owned by Alberta’s provincial government and manage the pensions of the Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE). Speaking at U of T Teresa said, “as unionists and as academic workers who are mostly renters we need to ask ourselves ‘why is the labour movement making investments that destroy working class people’s lives?’ Public sector workers in Alberta have no interest in pushing working class an immigrant tenants out of Parkdale…This is our battle to win together.”

#RentStrikeTO: a model for fighting precarity, class victories

Residents of Parkdale have overcome the realities of daily work hours and language barriers to pose a legitimate challenge to one of the largest property owners in Canada. Tom described this as a beacon of hope in times of precarity. “Without organizing independent institutions of working class power that are rooted in actual democratic procedure and structured around concrete shared material conditions, I fail to see a way out of our general predicament. We need the rent strike to succeed, not just for the sake of the brave tenants and their right to live with dignity but to show a potential way forward for the millions facing similar conditions across the city and around the globe.”

Parkdale residents are facing steep costs for openly defying MetCap. Each of the 200 eviction notice comes with a $190 filing charge should the resident choose to contest it. This does not include legal fees which may come along afterwards. Parkdale Organize has set up a GoFundMe page where you can support the Parkdale residents on rent strike:

In addition, 87 Jameson will be the first building to have a hearing at the Landlord and Tenant Board (79 St Clair Ave. East) on Wednesday, June 7 at 8:45 AM. A fundraising event will be held on June 17.

For more information visit event pages:

https://www.facebook.com/events/240968859720276

https://www.facebook.com/events/836267109855015

 

 

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