By Sahar Ashraf
On June 1, Parkdale community members expanded their rent strike against property management company MetCap Living. Tenants from six Parkdale buildings protesting above-the-guideline rent increases (AGIs) have convinced their neighbors in an additional six buildings to join the strike this month. Parkdale Organize, an organization of activists from the neighbourhood, has captured the media’s attention, winning the support of communities across Canada.
For nearly a year, tenants have been organizing to build community strength in their building. What began with a few residents of 87 Jameson going door-to-door to get petition signatures for a grant to fight the AGI in court, has grown into a united force of hundreds of tenants and community members acting as one. They are demanding an end to unfair rent increases in their buildings, and unaffordable housing in Toronto.
Because tenants have been organizing as a collective, and every tenant and supporter has the power to influence how they can resist, they’ve become a highly functional unit with a strong base of support. As a result, the strategies developed and actions planned during their meetings are creative and diverse. For example, at every official mediation or hearing where the Landlord and Tenant Board considers MetCap’s application for an AGI, tenants and supporters gather to vocally and vehemently oppose the rent increases.
Organizers have targeted several corporations and leaders who’ve been working together to economically evict tenants in Parkdale, protesting at the offices of MetCap and the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo), disrupting meetings attended by MetCap CEO Brent Merrill, and having a “party” in front of MetCap co-owner Guy Alberga’s home in Forest Hill.
When not attending actions, people are encouraged to contact Brent Merrill or Darren Shaw, the Regional Property Manager, by email, social media or through their personal phone numbers to talk to them directly and shame them for their greed and cruelty.
Through their resistance, Parkdale tenants are exposing exactly how cohesive and influential this network of corporate executives is, how far they will go to protect their own capital and class interests above all else, and how little they have to fear from laws and politicians.
The housing marketing crisis has not incapacitated Guy Alberga or Brent Merrill, who are making large profits at the expense of poor workers. At a time when discontent with Toronto’s unaffordability is widespread, Parkdale has taken the opportunity to demonstrate exactly who the corporate culprits are, and who this crisis most significantly affects—women, students, immigrants, seniors, people with disabilities, and generally those with precarious, low-income jobs.
And they’ve caught everyone’s ear. Tenants’ relentless disruptions have forced every mainstream media outlet to publicize the abuse they’ve been facing, and how bravely they’ve been standing up to it. The widespread media coverage has gotten the attention of the entire city.
As a result, community members and organizations have come out in large numbers to support Parkdale, and to support a struggle they closely relate to. Teachers and students at the Queen Victoria Public School in Parkdale are rallying in support of the rent strikers every morning leading up to the hearing on June 7 for the AGI that 87 Jameson is facing. The Toronto and York Region Labour Council issued a statement in solidarity with Parkdale. University students have been raising awareness on their campuses, and tenants have received support from various other groups around the country.
The community and nationwide support does not come empty-handed—it has culminated in over $24,000 in donated funds. The money raised gives security to tenants as they take on their oppressors in court and in the streets.
As large as the network of landlords, property managers and their defenders is, Parkdale tenants are proving that they can build a bigger and stronger counter-movement. And their fight will not end with the hearing for 87 Jameson on June 7. Their struggle has become larger than one building’s battle with a ruthless property management company.
“We need to start putting forward solutions to the problems that plague our lives,” said Brian, a tenant at 96 Jameson and organizer with Parkdale Organize, speaking to tenants rallying in Forest Hill. “We need to start organizing around all these points of conflict. Not just about AGIs, not just about pests, not just about disrepair. With working class organizations guided by working class principles, there’s no reason for us to be afraid. All people are waiting for is initiative and organization, for strength to be shown, and people will line up behind that strength. Because everybody is tired of all of the nonsense they have to go through so that people can live in Forest Hill.”
Parkdale tenants are building community power to tackle systemic issues that have tormented working class communities like theirs for generations. They refuse to depend on landlords to house them, or politicians to serve them, or police to protect them. They’re creating structures that will keep the community engaged, and they’re joining forces with other regional groups so that when the time comes, they’ll be powerful enough to tackle issues beyond unaffordable housing.