Sonia Israel and her two daughters are part of a group of over 100 tenants in a housing complex in Toronto’s Thorncliffe Park neighborhood who have been on a rent strike since May. They are withholding payment to pressure landlords to stop increasing rents. The landlords, Starlight Investments and the Public Sector Pension and Investment Board (PSP), are seeking above guideline rent increases (AGI) of almost 10 percent. Israel and other tenants believe the rent hikes are designed to push them out of their apartments.
Israel has lived in her apartment for over 30 years and loves the view of the Don Valley. She is concerned about the rent increase and the impact it will have on her living situation. The rent increase could lead to homelessness for some residents, and Israel believes the landlords are only interested in making money.
The tenants of Thorncliffe Park Drive have three main issues: maintenance problems, construction disruptions, and above guideline rent increases. Since organizing, maintenance issues have improved somewhat, and the focus is now on the rent hikes. Two-thirds of the approximately 900 households at the Thorncliffe Park complex have taken part in organizing efforts since February 2022.
Thorncliffe Park is a community of migrants from all over the world, with a population that is 95 percent visible minority. The buildings show their age, but residents value the culture, family, togetherness, and community. The striking tenants believe that the AGIs are a means for their landlord to pass maintenance costs on to them and force them to move out.
Sonia Israel lost her job at a chocolate plant in 2008 and cannot afford to retire. She now works part-time at a women’s shelter, earning about $800 per month. Her daughters also work, but the pandemic has made things difficult. In addition to the rent increases, Israel said there are still maintenance issues in her apartment.
The pandemic was especially difficult for money with all three family members out of work at times, but “the rent still had to be paid”. The tenants are concerned that if the issues are not resolved, they will be pushed out of their homes to make way for newer, higher-paying tenants. They are taking a stand to protect their homes and their community.
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