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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

OP-ED: Why we’re on a rent strike

Two residents of Thorncliffe Park explain why they and other residents are determined to continue a protest against above-guideline rent increases


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The Tenants at 71, 75, and 79 Thorncliffe Park Drive have taken a stand against our landlords, PSP Investments and Starlight Investments. On May 1, 2023, over 100 households went on rent strike to protest the proposed above guideline rent increases (AGIs) at our buildings — a rent strike that is now in its fourth month.

Thorncliffe Park is a vibrant neighbourhood with a diverse population. Tenants in our buildings are newcomers, seniors, and the working class who have called Thorncliffe Park home for years. We have put down roots, built lives, and formed deep connections with our neighbours and community. Now, we are united in our struggle to keep our homes in the face of mounting financial pressures.

A few years ago, our buildings were bought by public sector pension PSP Investments, through its partner Starlight Investments. Our new landlords have made it hard for us to stay in the place we have called home for so long. We have experienced continued disruptive renovations to our balconies, parking areas, and common areas in and around our buildings, enduring construction noise, frequent water shut downs, and endless amounts of dust build-up through the entire duration of the COVID-19 public health crisis and continuing to this day. On top of that, our landlords have applied for AGIs we simply cannot afford, seeking rent increases of almost 10% over two years.

The decision to collectively withhold rent did not occur overnight. It is the culmination of extensive organizing and collective action by tenants who have persistently voiced our concerns and needs to the landlords. It also comes after years of tenants struggling to make ends meet, making decisions on keeping a roof over our heads or food on the table, and making sacrifices to be able to continue living in our homes. The proposed rent hikes increase these financial pressures and will force tenants out of their homes. We have chosen to rent strike as a means of voicing our opposition to the unjustifiable rent increases that have a detrimental impact on our community.

The response from PSP Investments and Starlight Investments to the rent strike has been disappointing. Instead of engaging in meaningful dialogue with us and addressing our concerns, the landlords have decided to file at the Landlord and Tenant Board to evict the families on rent strike. Thankfully, this approach has only served to fuel the determination of the striking tenants and garner support from the broader community.

One of the rent strikers is a federal public service worker whose pension is managed by PSP Investments. After joining the rent strike to protest how his own pension is being used to raise his and his neighbours’ rent, he and his family now face eviction by his pension manager.

Rather than withdraw the AGIs, the landlords have tried to push their “assistance” programs on tenants individually. We have repeatedly told the landlords that this approach is unacceptable. These programs may provide temporary relief to some tenants but they do not address the underlying issue of unaffordable housing in the long term.

Once the relief period ends, tenants are left grappling with high rents they cannot sustain. If the landlords are sincere in their desire to provide relief, they must withdraw the AGIs, not pressure tenants to disclose financial, employment, and immigration information to meet unknown conditions and requirements.

PSP Investments claims to be committed to responsible and sustainable investing. However, the proposed AGIs at our buildings say otherwise. The landlords’ continued refusal to engage with the people from whose homes they are seeking to extract maximum profit appears to be a more accurate reflection of their practices.

Throughout this struggle, we remain resolute in our commitment to fight for our homes and our community. We stand firm in our demand for the AGIs to be withdrawn.

The rent strike at 71, 75, and 79 Thorncliffe Park Drive is an example of working-class tenants standing up for their community and refusing to accept rent increases that force people out of their homes.

Tenants of Thorncliffe Park have demonstrated that we will not be silenced or ignored. Our struggle continues, and we will persevere until our demands are realized.

Sameer Beyan is a tenant at 79 Thorncliffe Park Drive, where he has lived for eight years. Jawad Ukani is a tenant at 71 Thorncliffe Park Drive, where they have lived for 17 years. Both Sameer and Jawad have been on a rent strike since May 1, 2023.

photo by Canmenwalker (CC)