by Sahar Ashraf
The Parkdale community rent strike has ended in victory. Tenants withholding rent in protest of above-the-guideline rent increases (AGIs) have finally won a hard-fought battle against their property management company, MetCap, and landlord, AIMCo.
Negotiations between the landlords and tenants began in June, with Parkdale Community Legal Services present to provide clarification when necessary. After just two rounds of meetings, MetCap surrendered and offered a substantial reduction in the AGIs that each building was facing. They have also promised to create a program for additional rent relief for tenants in financial hardship, and a program to implement maintenance and repair work in each building.
The Landlord and Tenant Board held hearings to discuss one of the AGIs earlier this year, but failed to provide justice for tenants. To fight for their homes, several residents of MetCap buildings banded together and went on rent strike, demanding that their landlords and property managers negotiate with them directly.
“It was definitely better than what we would’ve gotten if we’d tried to go through the Board or didn’t say anything,” said Bryan Daley, who represented tenants of 90 Jameson during negotiations. “It’s going to allow people to stay in their homes for the next couple of years rather than being pushed out. For some of the tenants that were involved in this, they were at the breaking point. This rent increase was the difference between them being in their apartment and them having to move somewhere else, so it’s definitely a win for a lot of people.”
The rent strike began at 87 Jameson in February. On March 16, tenants and supporters brought outstanding repair orders to MetCap’s head office and occupied the atrium, but were refused a meeting with any MetCap representatives. Enraged tenants held an impromptu mass meeting after the action, where several residents of other MetCap buildings committed to join the rent strike on May 1. On April 30, the eve of the strike, hundreds of people marched through Parkdale in a massive display of community wide support for rent strikers.
At the peak of the rent strike, 300 units in 12 buildings managed by MetCap were withholding rent. Tenants participated from 32 Maynard Ave, 99 and 150 Dowling Ave, 47 and 75 Spencer Ave, 60 and 135 Tyndall Ave and 87, 90, 91, 169 and 200 Jameson Ave. Tenants withheld nearly $1 million of rent from their landlords over the course of the strike.
Once the rent strike began, MetCap initially ignored tenants or used petty intimidation tactics to bully them into giving up. Tenants who were displaying banners in support of the rent strike received letters that threatened eviction. Property manager Darren Shaw himself tried to force tenants into taking down the banners. The CEO of MetCap almost ran over an organizer with his truck, with Shaw in the passenger seat.
But over the course of the strike, the neighborhood had built a solid network of support and were confident standing up to MetCap’s bullying. The strength and unity of the tenants forced MetCap to completely abandon scare tactics and instead take tenants’ issues seriously by directly entering into negotiations with them.
“I wasn’t going to allow them the pleasure to try and intimidate us,” said Bryan. “That happened too much over the course of the strike. This was just another person sitting down in front of me. Regardless of what their title may be, at the end of the day, I felt that my cause was just. They may be financially at a different level than I am, but sitting at the table we were all at the same playing field.”
Representatives who were a part of the negotiation process took the responsibility of being a voice for all tenants very seriously. They met with the various tenants’ organizations in each building to make every decision as a collective. To make sure everyone was informed, they had one-on-one conversations with each other by door-knocking and on the streets. To account for tenants’ varying schedules, they sent mass texts and emails as well. Neighbors relied on one another to get the word out.
The rent strike did not occur spontaneously. Over the past three years, leaders in the community have consistently taken the initiative to organize with the residents of Parkdale around a multitude of issues. Parkdale Organize has been actively fighting alongside tenants against their landlords, with workers against their employers, and providing a learning space for young students. Eventually, the tightly knit community built in Parkdale was inspired to come together and use a large scale and unlawful tactic to demand justice.
Through the rent strike, tenants of Parkdale have demonstrated that collectively fighting against shared hardships is not only possible, but powerful. The short-term victory is the reduction of the AGIs. The long-term victory is the understanding that working class people have the right and the capacity to forcefully demand a better quality of life.
The Parkdale rent strike may be over, but the rest of the city is even hungrier for change.