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Expropriate buildings for social housing now, says OCAP

Amid ongoing homelessness crisis, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) is hosting a rally on Saturday, Oct 24, to re-iterate its demand to expropriate the properties from 214-230 Sherbourne St in Toronto and build social housing

by David Gray-Donald

Image: Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and Open Architecture Toronto
Image: Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and Open Architecture Toronto
Perspective view showing the whole proposal from the northeast. Image: OCAP and OAT
Perspective view showing the whole proposal from the northeast. Image: OCAP and OAT
Perspective view of the proposal, showing the podium framing the central courtyard at ground level. Image: OCAP and OAT
Perspective view of the proposal, showing the podium framing the central courtyard at ground level. Image: OCAP and OAT
The seven lots that make up 214-230 Sherbourne. Photo: OCAP
The seven lots that make up 214-230 Sherbourne. Photo: OCAP

Yesterday, an Ontario judge denied a request to suspend a bylaw banning overnight camping in Toronto parks. On top of an existing chronic homelessness problem in Toronto, the pandemic has amplified existing inequalities and driven large numbers of people onto the streets. The federal CERB payments have been out of reach for those with incomes under $5,000 in the previous year, a callous blow to those already struggling hardest.

In addition to pushing for expanding safe shelter spaces now, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) is also thinking long-term. A proposal was developed in 2019 to build social housing near the corner of Sherbourne and Dundas at 214-230 Sherbourne, in the heart of the downtown east (DTE). The proposal was developed with extensive consultation in the working class neighbourhood which has in recent decades seen waves of gentrification and displacement. Now, OCAP is pushing the proposal again, making sure the community and elected officials don't forget it.

On Saturday, October 24th, "community members will converge at Allan Gardens to demand that the vacant properties from 214-230 Sherbourne be expropriated and developed into rent-geared-to-income social housing," OCAP writes in a press release.

"Thousands of rooming houses that served as affordable housing for the poor have disappeared, replaced by homes for the wealthy," reads the 2019 proposal, writen by OCAP and Open Architecture Toronto.

"The corner of Dundas and Shebourne remains an important part of this neighbourhood. All Saints Anglican Church, which has served as a community centre since 1970, sits at the southeast corner. It houses a day-time drop-in and a respite centre used by hundreds of homeless people. Across from the church, lie 214-230 Sherbourne Street, the seven properties this report focuses on. A large abandoned 30-room Victorian House - 230 Sherbourne - is the sole structure left standing on that lot. The house operated as a rooming house since 1914 until 10 years ago, when its tenants were evicted and the house abandoned. Two other houses adjacent to 230 Sherbourne, 224 and 226 Sherbourne, also operated as rooming houses for decades but were demolished."   

The 2019 proposal, which was submitted to the City of Toronto, calls for "a large rent-geared-to-income housing project that is welcoming, open and connected with the DTE community in every way," the proposal reads.

"To accomplish this the building is designed in two parts: 1) a sloped podium that forms a courtyard open to Sherbourne Street, and 2) an eighteen storey tower that accommodates most of the units. The podium rises six storeys in the south, matching the Sherbourne Pembroke affordable housing in height. It steps down to four towards the northside of the site to allow more sunlight into the courtyard, and finally to three storeys to meet the historic house." The historic house here refers to the one building still standing at 214 Sherbourne, which is currently unoccupied. The owners are Bhushan and Rekha Taneja, who are looking to sell on the market. 

Over a year after submitting the proposal, says OCAP, "we are still waiting for a response " from the city government.

"Winter is coming," the group writes. "No More Homeless Deaths. Join us to demand the city expropriate 214-230 Sherbourne now!"

The rally will begin at 11 am on Saturday at Allan Gardens, featuring speakers from OCAP, Jane Finch Action Against Poverty, and more.


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David Gray-Donald (David Gray-Donald)
montreal and toronto
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