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City council votes to give $3M to land trust to keep Kensington Market building as affordable housing

City council passed motion on Thursday
April 9, 2021

Toronto city council passed a motion on Thursday to give $3 million to a land trust to help it buy a building in Kensington Market in a bid to maintain the property as affordable housing.

The Kensington Market Community Land Trust, a non-profit organization, had said it would use the money to acquire, renovate and operate the building at 54-56 Kensington Ave. as affordable housing for the next 99 years. The building has 12 residential units, 10 of which are occupied, and five retail units.

Dominique Russell, co-chair of the land trust, said the organization wants to ensure the building's tenants can live without fear of eviction.

"We are trying to buy this building in order to assure in perpetuity that it is affordable, that the tenants get to stay and that the land will be in community hands," Russell said.

Tenants said they received eviction notices on Jan. 1, 2019 that gave them three months to vacate the building. New owners had just acquired the property and had plans to redevelop it. The land trust was able to help the tenants get legal advice and fight the eviction.

"We organized immediately to support those tenants," Russell said. "It's very scary to get an eviction like that."

Now, the developers are selling the building, and the residents wanted the city to ensure they would not face eviction again.

Greg Herrington, a tenant who has resided at 54 Kensington Ave. for the past 13 years, said he has lived under the threat of eviction for two years. 

"This is our neighbourhood. We live here. This is Kensington Market," he said. "To not know where you're going to live from year to year, especially in a city like this, where there's no available housing, it's very concerning."

Herrington's rent is far below market value, at $715 a month, and he said he worries he would have no choice but to leave the city if he lost his apartment. He calls it a mini-bachelor.

Before the motion was approved Thursday, Herrington had said the city's decision to give the money to the land trust "would mean the landlord can't sell it to somebody who would just try to do the same thing the moment they get here, try to throw the people out."

Affordable housing a 'critical need,' motion says
Coun. Mike Layton, who represents Ward 11, University-Rosedale, said the land trust turned to the city for help two years ago. He moved the motion, seconded by Coun. Joe Cressy.

"They contacted us and said, 'Look, we found this property that has gone up for sale, and we would like support in maintaining it as affordable housing,'" Layton said.

The motion reads in part: "In Toronto's current real estate market, affordable multi-unit rental buildings are rapidly being converted into expensive rentals, or demolished to make way for new condominium development. There is a critical need to permanently protect the affordability of existing rental housing across the city, and partnerships with the non-profit housing sector provide a viable pathway towards doing so."

According to Layton, the $3 million will come from what are called Section 37 funds with money provided by the various developments in Ward 11. The funds will be subject to the land trust successfully acquiring the property by no later than May 31, 2021.

According to the motion, the property is currently on the market, the land trust has signed a conditional Agreement of Purchase and Sale with the owners and the land trust expects the deal will close by May 26, 2021.