54 56 kensington avenue toronto

Toronto neighbourhood just bought a building to save it from greedy landlords

A Toronto community group just bought a mixed residential and commercial building to save it from a possible ghost hotel renovation and to preserve the affordability of their neighbourhood.

The Kensington Market Community Land Trust, a community group started in 2017 to protect the social and economic diversity of the neighbourhood, announced they bought 54-56 Kensington Ave. on May 31.

"We are really excited that we have got a mixed building because part of our mandate is to preserve the nature of Kensington Market, which has always been commercial below, residential above," Dominique Russell, co-chair of the Kensington Market Community Land Trust tells blogTO.

Known as the Mona Lisa building (for a mural on one side), it is one of Kensington Market's anchoring properties with 12 affordable residential units and five business units including a beloved variety store.

The land trust started the process to buy the building in March.

When it came up for sale, the land trust recognized that a new commercial landlord would not be in the best interests of the tenants or the neighbourhood.

About two years ago, new owners of the building were trying to get the tenants to leave, possibility to start a hotel or Airbnb, Russell says. 

"There was a strong attempt to move the tenants out," she says.

They fought and the tenants who wanted to stay were able to keep their units but then two years later the building was up for sale again.

They enlisted the help of Councillor Mike Layton, who brought a motion at city council, granting the land trust $3 million towards the purchase of the building.

For the city to invest in keeping people in their homes is "huge" says Russell.

"We are in a housing crisis and we are losing housing stock."

She says the purchase of the building brings security to the residents.

"They won't have to spend their lives fighting to stay in their apartments."

The land trust has launched a GoFundMe campaign with a $50,000 goal to cover the remaining "small gap" in the purchase of the property, for repairs and maintenance for the first year, and to continue their work.

Russell says they are following the model of the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust in purchasing property to preserve it.

"There are parts of the city that need protecting," Russell says.

In Kensington Market, there is a need to protect both affordable housing and rents for retail.

"There is an affordability crisis o­­­­n both sides."

This is the first building the land trust has bought. They have also been advocating for a possible affordable housing project on a Bellevue Avenue parking lot.

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez

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