March 19, 2019, By David Nickle
Willa Marcus has lived on Langley Avenue for 30 years and she loves her neighbours.
When she learned that she would be losing 24 of them in relatively short order, she was incensed.
Standing in a March snowstorm outside the old nurse’s residence at 28 and 30 Langley, Marcus said she was proud to be one of the homeowners on the wealthy Riverdale street standing up to protect those neighbours — residents of the rooming house — and their right to remain.
“I’ve lived very close by this rooming house for 30 years, and didn’t realize how much I thought of my neighbours,” said Marcus at the March 16 rally. “People have been there for seven, 10, 15, 20 years — it’s not like there’s a constant turnover. These people are my neighbours and I was shocked that all of a sudden I was going to lose 24 neighbours.”
The residents of the century-old rooming house are facing notices of eviction from a group of owners that recently purchased the imposing structure — in order that the owners might conduct “demolition” on their units.
About half the tenants have already left, and the rest are holding on — to tiny bachelorette units that are equipped with small kitchen spaces but shared bathrooms, waiting to appeal the second eviction notice at the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board.
The first, delivered earlier this year, was thrown out on a technicality, and the second is still awaiting appeal. Lawyer Stewart Cruikshank is representing the tenants, many of whom will not be able to find equivalent housing in the east-end community.
“Many of these people are on long-term disability — it’s not like we can move them out and there’s nice, affordable housing down the street,” he said. “Nobody is building affordable housing anymore.”
Cruikshank said the type of renovation that the owners are proposing — tearing out the kitchens and replacing them with individual bathrooms, and building a single communal kitchen in the basement — suggests that the owners might be attempting to create a student hostel or an Airbnb-style short-term rental.
In an interview March 13, Ian Leggett — one of the new owners — said there are no plans to do either of those things, and the intent is to continue to use the facility as a rooming house, as it’s currently permitted.
He said the main reason for the renovation is simply the age and condition of the building.
“The reason behind the renovation is we purchased this property from somebody who had been letting it go derelict,” he said. “There’s an archaic heating system — a steam boiler, it’s inefficient, it doesn’t provide adequate heat and some of the radiators are broken — you can’t turn them off. There’s the possibility of those old pipes corroding — a burst pipe would be a nightmare. And the electrical is spaghetti, and the plumbing’s not great.”
Cruikshank said he anticipated that the new units would be if not affordable, at the lower end of the rental market.
But in Toronto’s superheated rental market, that may not be enough. Tenant Aya Higuchi has lived in her room for a year and a half and despairs at being able to find anything to match the $800 a month she pays now.
The place she’s in is spare but she’s made it home, and has access to a tiny balcony and natural light. She has to share a bath with four other tenants and she said she’s fine with that.
She’s fearful that if she’s finally evicted, she’ll be effectively homeless.
“At this moment, I just want to keep fighting,” she said. “My family is in Japan so I can’t ask anyone for help. I have no place to go.”
Local Ward 14 Coun. Paula Fletcher helped organize the rally, and she vowed to fight the “renoviction” at city hall. She noted that there is very little that can be done with the property other than maintain it as a rooming house. But she said that market forces, and a loophole in provincial law that fails to protect tenants in units that aren’t self-contained, makes it difficult.
“This is the second tsunami,” she said. “The first is that prices of housing is going very high so people can’t afford to buy, and very little rental is being built. The second is the renovictions.”