Ottawa Citizen: City staff find way to save Manor Village homes from LRT destruction, while ‘renovictions’ remove tenants
Posted May 19, 2022
Posted May 19, 2022
City staff are proposing a way to rescue the rental homes sentenced to destruction in 2020 by the council-endorsed route for the future Barrhaven LRT extension. But in Manor Village, where half those units are located, the low-rent townhouses that residents fought hard to save from the train are being renovated out of existence, and the owner is trying to evict those tenants who’ve declined to move out to make way for unit upgrades.
A majority of council members voted in November 2020 to endorse a route that would require the expropriating of land that hosted 60 rental units at Manor Village and another 60 at the nearby Cheryl Gardens complex, together housing more than 300 tenants at the time.
Staff were directed to form a working group to look at how to help the residents who would be impacted. According to a report published Thursday, staff revisited a previous option to have an elevated LRT guideway run down the centre of Woodroffe Avenue from Knoxdale Road to Hunt Club Road.
It wasn’t recommended previously for a number of reasons, city staff explain in the report, but they investigated options to address these issues and conclude that “this solution avoids displacement of tenants, loss of housing stock and mitigates increasing costs related to property purchases.”
This revised alignment recommended by staff could cost an extra $35 million to $50 million, bringing the total cost estimate for the Barrhaven LRT project to $3.52 billion, though there is still no timeline for when the project would start and no funding secured. The proposal will come before transportation committee and council for a vote in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, the owners of Manor Village have been hard at work transforming the low-rent townhouse complex at Majestic Drive and Woodroffe Avenue, offering buyouts, and more recently, eviction notices to tenants so they can upgrade the units they occupied. Townhouses that have already undergone renovations are being marketed right now to students and professionals for room rentals, and to those who can rent a home for $3,000-plus a month.
Thirty-five Manor Village households have received N13 eviction notices. According to ACORN Canada, a community-based social justice organization that a number of Manor Village tenants belong to, the move-out date they’ve been given is August 31. Tenants are not obligated to leave — and some are vowing to stay — but the landlord can apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board for an eviction order.
“When we acquired this property last year, it was in a state of poor repair and required significant refurbishment work to bring standards up including all new roofs, internal retrofits, new and additional windows and along with substantial electrical and plumbing upgrades,” reads a statement Smart Living Properties sent to this newspaper.
The Ottawa company manages and co-owns the Manor Village complex, which they purchased in September 2020. Ownership is shared with Toronto-based Forum Equity Partners, which develops, acquires and asset manages residential and commercial real estate, according to its website.
They’ve done as much of the work as possible in empty units in over the past few months, said Smart Living, but all units now need to be vacated “to finish the extensive repairs safely.”
The company’s website advertises two available rental options at “Woodroffe Place” (the rebranded Manor Village): a four-bedroom house with a private yard for $3,200+, and a $750 roommate option for students and professionals, looking to share a home with others of that renter category. Units are fully furnished, equipped with granite countertops and smart TVs, and include utilities, internet and in-suite laundry, according to the website.
“Our team understands that having to move is inconvenient and stressful,” said Smart Living. The company said it “successfully negotiated relocation deals in which departing tenants were generously compensated, at a much higher amount than what is legally required,” as well as provided home finding services and support with moving expenses. These “relocation packages” remain on offer for the tenants who’ve been served N13s.
Smart Living Properties said its Manor Village project will deliver 111 “newly renovated and much needed modernized residential units” to the rental market in west Ottawa, once completed.
If the plan for a reworked LRT route proposed by staff is approved, those units will live on, undisturbed by the Barrhaven extension. But what won’t survive, with the ongoing “renovictions” at Manor Village, as they’re being described, is the affordable rental units that tenants and advocates fought hard to try to save in 2020.
It’s a shame, Knoxville-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli said Wednesday, but he added that he’s not sure what the answer is.
“They are the property owners. They have certain rights. The tenants have certain rights. And it sounds like a number of these are going to end up … in front of the (Landlord and Tenant) board, which is appropriate.”
Peggy Rafter is one of the Manor Village tenants vowing to challenge their eviction.
The 63-year-old retiree has lived in the complex for more than 30 years and pays $1,145 monthly for her two-bedroom townhouse.
“I have no choice but to fight for my home. I live on limited money. The community is wonderful,” said Rafter, in an interview earlier this week.
She’s an ACORN member and marched alongside fellow tenants at a protest the group organized Wednesday to call attention to the Manor Village evictions, and demand a meeting with the landlord and withdrawal of the N13s
“I can’t even describe how mentally draining it would be, and it is already, the thought of having to be displaced,” said Rafter. “Where am I going to end up? You know, just the what-ifs of everything.”
Legally, Ontario tenants who receive a N13 for repairs or renovations have the right to return to their rental unit when those are completed and pay the same rent the landlord would have been able to charge them had they never left. Exercising this right does require the tenant to tell their landlord they intend to do so, in writing, before they leave the unit, and to inform them of any change of address.
But Rafter doesn’t believe she and fellow tenants will be allowed back. ACORN has argued that the fine for not respecting a tenant’s right to return — up to $50,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a corporation — “is just the cost of doing business for financialized landlords like Forum Equities.”
Asked if it was committed to allowing tenants who want it, their right to return to their units at Manor Village (now Woodroffe Place), Smart Living did not provide any assurances.
“We are ending the tenancy agreements for these units because we are making extensive repairs and parts of the units will be demolished and reconfigured in the process,” they said.
“All we’re asking is for the (remaining) people to be left to live. We can live amongst students, I mean we’re all people,” said Rafter.
“I know it’s all about the money, but have some dignity for people that have been here 30, 40, 45 years.”
As for those who’ve already left, Rafter and Amanda McMahon, another longtime Manor Village resident, said they believe some did so because they were resigned to the eventual destruction of their homes by the LRT route.
Struggling to maintain her composure as she addressed the assembled protesters Wednesday, McMahon said she doesn’t know where she’ll go, if she has to leave the rental she shares with her mom and four children, and pays $1,414 a month for.
“We will be homeless. We will be living in my van.”
Article by Taylor Blewett for the Ottawa Citizen