Toronto tenants demand extension of eviction ban and rent relief
Tenants from Toronto neighbourhoods including Parkdale, Scarborough, Jane and Finch, and East York are banding together to demand a permanent ban on Ontario evictions for anyone unable to pay rent throughout the pandemic.
The tenant movement has been growing since the virus first arrived in Toronto, forcing businesses to shutter and many to lose their jobs.
This, we now know, has disproportionately affected low-income residents of the city, and many of them have taken a pledge to keep their rent month after month in order to put it toward basic necessities such as food and medicine.
On March 19, Premier Doug Ford announced that he would be halting all residential evictions in the province until further notice to prevent anyone from losing their home during the pandemic.
He also said anyone who couldn't afford to pay rent simply shouldn't —promising that no one would be evicted for doing so.
But reports have circulated, nonetheless, of landlords threatening to evict tenants once the moratorium is lifted, and many have also reported experiencing intimidation tactics and other threats related to non-payment of rent.
“We are not organizing just for rent. We're organizing because our supers and landlord regularly call the cops on us. We're organizing because our families deserve a clean and safe place to live. We're organizing because the rent goes up every year but the building is the same.” pic.twitter.com/uy24kzXVbt— Markham and Eglinton Unite! (@mneunite) June 10, 2020
And so, the Toronto tenant movement rages on.
"The goal of the movement is to prevent the massive displacement of disproportionately low-income and racialized tenants that is set to occur once the eviction moratorium is lifted by the Ford government," said Alykhan Pabani, a community organizer and tenant advocate.
"If we do nothing, thousands will be cast into financial ruin, and in many cases, homelessness."
Ontario’s top 10 postal codes for evictions (2012-2016) were in Jane and Finch, Rexdale, Black Creek, Jane/Wilson, and Parkdale (West Lodge).— Cole Webber (@colefwebber) June 8, 2020
Most are Black neighbourhoods; all are home to a disproportionate number of racialized people.#NoCovidEvictionshttps://t.co/WGPqJylyNk pic.twitter.com/4KJTzGsrV6
Pabani said many of his neighbours have been forced into extremely difficult circumstances by the financial impacts of the pandemic, such as having to ration food and medicine, take on highly unsafe work, seek therapy for the first time, and rely on mutual aid networks for periodic check-ins (especially with isolated, immunocompromised elderly tenants) and delivery of community-funded basic necessities.
And yet, despite the eviction ban, he said many people in his neighbourhood have been subject to hostile treatment from landlords.
"They have only escalated their pressure and intimidation tactics," he said.
"The other day, I saw two security guards patrolling the front of our building. They were practicing extending a collapsible baton. The landlord has hired a crew of security guards to prevent, according to one, 'a large group of people' from entering any one of their many buildings across the neighbourhood."
He said the demands of the tenant movement are simple: No evictions for rent arrears accrued during the COVID—19 crisis, and the cancellation of all rent arrears accrued throughout the crisis.
Earlier this week, hundreds of tenants marched through downtown Toronto and rallied at Queen's Park before walking to the Landlord and Tenant Board to express these demands.
Thanks to years of working-class organising and getting rooted, a mass of tenants was ready to act together when the crisis hit.— Croydon Solidarity Network (@NetworkCroydon) June 10, 2020
We need to take on the work of rooting so that we're ready for when the conditions of struggle change. This is what revolutionary activity is about. https://t.co/kauKKG3fuJ
They also called for landlords to agree to negotiate with tenants' organizations, and warned that if landlords and the government try to evict any of them, they'll be met with "the organized resistance of tenants from across our city," according Parkdale Organize.
Activists practiced social distancing, wore masks and took health and safety seriously so as not to contribute to the transmission of COVID-19 in their neighbourhoods, which are among some of the hardest hit areas in the city.
And Pabani said this protest certainly won't be the last.
"We are prepared to do whatever it takes to keep our neighbours safe, healthy and housed," he said. "Our larger aim is to build working class power by learning to organize and fight alongside one another."
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