Posted January 4, 2022
Eighty ACORN members from across Ottawa met on March 4th to launch their campaign for an Anti-Displacement Policy in the city. A virtual forum was co-hosted by Herongate and Manor Village ACORN members to highlight the issue of mass evictions that are orchestrated under the guise of needing major renovations or demolition. Many ACORN members have first hand experience with these mass evictions known as “renovictions” and “demovictions”. They often occur in older apartments that tend to be more affordable but are at risk of being redeveloped.
Thanks to loopholes in provincial rent control measures, market rents have increased by one-third in the last decade while income has not come anywhere close to keeping pace. As rents on the market continue to increase each year, our affordable housing stock declines. We are losing more affordable housing than is being built. In the last decade, only 3% of all developments in Ottawa were affordable rental units. However, building more affordable housing can’t be the only solution to our housing crisis when we cannot protect the affordable housing we already have.
According to University of Ottawa Professor, Carolyn Whitzman, between the years 2011 and 2016, fifteen affordable homes were lost for every social housing unit built. This trend is the result of aggressive tactics employed by landlords to replace lower income renters with tenants that can afford to pay luxury rents and condo fees. One of the biggest culprits has been Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). REITs, like Timbercreek and Minto, pool the capital of multiple investors to own, operate or finance income-generating real estate. They treat housing like a financialized asset and have a vested interest in flipping low cost rentals through renovictions and demovictions to make a bigger profit for their shareholders. The rise of REITs can be partially attributed to sweetheart tax deals provided by the federal government that exclude REITs from paying federal income tax. ACORN Canada is fighting to close this loophole and tax REITs depending on how much affordable housing they are building or destroying.
In the years 2016 and 2018, Timbercreek (Ottawa’s most infamous REIT who recently rebranded to Hazelview Properties) mass evicted over 180 racialized, working class families in Herongate to replace their homes with luxury rentals. One ACORN member, Grace Iyobosa, was demovicted not once, but twice by Timbercreek. Grace recalls how the forceful evictions resulted in her and her children being depressed, her children losing their friends and school, and the struggles of moving far away from their old lives, “I would like to go back to Herongate, I liked my neighborhood, there were a lot of immigrants and people of colour like me. I felt like I was home,” Grace said during the forum. Despite now renting in Beacon Hill, Grace continues to fight alongside her old neighbours in Herongate for rental replacements for previously evicted families wishing to return to their community.
Just two years after the 2018 evictions in Herongate came tenants’ fight to save their homes in Manor Village. While the City tried to wipe its hands clean of responsibility in 2016 and 2018 in Herongate, the City of Ottawa is actually the driving force behind the future demolition of Manor Village. Alison Trowbridge, a founding member of the ACORN Manor Village Tenant Union, spoke out against Council’s decision to put Stage 3 LRT through her neighbourhood. Alison says, “I feel like the demolition of Manor Village is not a decision, we’ve had the ability to make that decision ripped out from underneath us, we’ve been told you’re being removed.” As a single mother of a 7 year old special needs son paying $1,250/month for a two bedroom townhouse, Alison says she can’t afford anything else, “If I have to move, my son and I will be sleeping in my car.” According to Padmapper the average 2 bedroom apartment in Ottawa rents for $1,725/month.
While many Ottawa residents have become familiar with the stories of Herongate and Manor Village, there are many more instances of renovictions and demovictions happening in the city. It is important to be aware that not every unjust case of eviction or displacement makes the news. For example, ACORN member Robin Dostaler’s entire building in Vanier is being renovicted; all the tenants have been issued N13s by the new owners during COVID19. According to Robin, everyone living in the building is low-income, with many tenants being on Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). Some have lived there for as long as 15 years, meaning their rent is considerably lower than what’s available today. Robin and her neighbours question whether the renovations require tenants to vacate their units and have now organized their own ACORN Tenant Union to push collectively to stay in their homes.
Based on the experiences of our members in Herongate, Manor Village and elsewhere across Ottawa, ACORN is calling on City Hall to implement an Anti Displacement Policy. While our members continue to stand up against individual landlords’ attempts to gentrify our buildings and neighbourhood blocks, we need to make sure that if these redevelopments are going to happen that tenants are protected. Essential elements of an Anti Displacement Policy would be 1) no loss of affordable housing 2) no increase in tenants’ rent and 3) no displacement from the neighbourhood.
With this in mind, a Rental Replacement Bylaw would have to be created to ensure no loss of affordable housing. This would mean that if a developer was going to redevelop affordable housing that these units would have to be replaced in the new development at a ratio of 1:1 or 25% of the total number of proposed units, whichever is greater. Existing tenants would then have the right of first refusal to these new units at the same rent and number of bedrooms they had before. Ottawa is currently lagging behind other Ontario municipalities such as Toronto and Peel that have had Rental Replacement Bylaws for years.
However, a Rental Replacement Bylaw on its own won’t address the problem of rising rents and displacement as it can take 2-3 years before a development has completed construction. This is why we need rent stabilization. In Burnaby, BC where rent stabilization is an important element of their Tenant Assistance Policy, landlords are required to either find tenants temporary accommodation that’s comparable to their current unit OR top up their rent. A rental top up would work like this: if a tenant wants to find their own housing before moving back into the new development, the landlord would be responsible for paying the difference in their old rent and the rent at their new apartment up to the CMHC average rent +30%. This ensures that development doesn’t come at an extra cost to tenants already struggling to pay their rent and that families can afford to stay in their community.
While this would be groundbreaking for Ottawa, it would not be new for Canada. After years of protests, actions, public submissions and media stories, BC ACORN was able to secure a victory on these exact policies in Burnaby with the introduction of their new Tenant Assistance Policy. The real tipping point for BC ACORN’s campaign was the 2018 municipal election. Demovictions became an election issue as the entrenched Mayor had overseen the destruction of 6% of Metrown’s affordable rentals and had many developer backers. But BC ACORN’s aggressive campaign against demovictions, supported by community and labour allies, led to the Mayor’s primary challenger championing the issue and eventually unseating his predecessor. Shortly after the new mayor was elected he created a Burnaby Housing Taskforce, where ACORN held a seat. By 2019, the City of Burnaby passed the strongest tenant protections in the country, the Tenant Assistance Policy..
This example in Burnaby goes to show that anything is possible when you have a group of people organizing collectively. Anti-displacement policies already exist in Burnaby, so we know that with enough pressure from the community and persistent organizing, we can win this in Ottawa as well. And there’s opportunity locally. City staff are in the midst of developing a report on municipal tools to prevent and prohibit renovictions and the loss of affordable housing. So we need more tenants and supporters to join the campaign. To get involved you can:
– Become an ACORN member
– Send a message to City Council by signing our online action: https://acorncanada.org/take-action/send-message-ottawa-city-hall-end-mass-displacement-predatory-landlords
– Call your city councilor and ask them to support an Anti Displacement Policy
– Donate to the campaign at acorncanada.org
– Share this online form to help us document renovictions/demovictions in the city: https://bit.ly/38kl12j
Finally, if you are a tenant in Ottawa that is at risk of being renovicted or demovicted, get in touch with us at (613) 746-5999 ext 2 or firstname.lastname@example.org so we can help you and your neighbours organize to defend your homes. Together we can live in a city that puts homes over profit.
Article by Olivia Wrigley for Ottawa Peace & Environment Blog