NO MORE RENOVICTIONS: ORGANIZING WORKS!
A MASSIVE victory was won by ACORN members living in Manor Village, an affordable rental townhouse community in Nepean. After over two and a half years of tenant meetings, rallies, demonstrations, reports, press coverage, deputations, petitions, and lot’s of direct action, the Manor Village ACORN Tenants Union was able to force Smart Living Properties to withdraw their N13 evictions, allowing tenants to rightfully stay put within their affordable homes!
This was a well deserved group effort, but a special thank you goes to ACORN members, Peggy Rafter, Alison Trowbridge, and Clark Hill for providing extraordinary leadership over the campaign, Amanda McMahon, Amanda Hickey, & Terry Dagenais for sharing their testimonies with media, politicians and at rallies, and the many more who supported and attended actions over the years.
BACKGROUND: FIGHTING THE CITY’S DEMOVICTIONS FOR STAGE 3 LRT
ACORN has been fighting against the mass displacement of Manor Village tenants since September 2020.
Many of the tenants have been in their homes for over 30 years, generations of families living in the same home in the neighbourhood. Many have fostered deep ties to their neighbours and communities. And just as important, these homes were affordable for those living in the neighbourhood, with many paying between $1100-$1300 for a three bedroom townhome. However this community that tenants had built over the years was under threat after the City wanting to push Stage 3 LRT straight through in Manor Village.
In the same year the City had declared a housing and homeless emergency, City Council voted 16 to 7 in favour of demolishing 300+ tenants’ homes to put the Barrhaven expansion of the LRT through Manor Village. Despite massive efforts from the ACORN Tenants Union in Manor Village, this decision would have led to the demolition of 111 affordable family homes. But ACORN members don’t give up! Members persisted and continued planning actions. As a result, we were able to force the city to reverse their decision and undertake the many other options that avoided tearing down homes in Manor Village for the LRT!
However, just as tenants were clearing the hurdle set by the City to save their homes, Smart Living initiated their eviction process against tenants.
BACKGROUND: FIGHTING SMART LIVING & FORUM EQUITY’S RENOVICTIONS
Smart Living Properties is a property management company that has a history of renovating affordable homes out of existence for student housing. They, along with Forum Equities, a Toronto based investment firm, decided to buy Manor Village – continuing a long tradition of greedy landlords seeking to profit from displacement. Once it was announced that tenants’ homes would no longer be demolished for the LRT, Smart Living issued N13 eviction notices to all Manor Village tenants for unnecessary renovations. Greatly incentivized by the proximity of the future LRT station, Smart Living intended to convert these affordable homes into high-end student housing, tripling the rent in the process.
Smart Living pulled out a full gauntlet to intimidate tenants and force them out of their homes. To try to disempower the collective force of the tenants’ union, Smart Living refused to meet with tenants as a group. Tenants were also confronted with a purposeful neglect of maintenance, constant doorknocking from Smart Living agents, as well as being told verbally that their right to return to their unit after renovations were done would not be honoured and that tenants didn’t stand a chance.
Aggressive buyout offers are another tried and true method used by landlords to try and escalate the eviction process and make tenants feel like they don’t have a choice but to take the offer. Buyouts from Smart Living had originally been a payment equal to three months rent. But members of the tenants union held strong and resisted, knowing they had the right to defend their homes and that offers could only increase. Because tenants organized and stayed united, offers gradually increased to $65,000 in the end.
Although some had taken the buyouts, remaining tenants refused to back down from the fight! This all came to a head when weeks before Manor Village tenants and Smart Living’s scheduled hearing at the Landlord Tenant Board, Smart Living finally caved into the pressure created by ACORN Tenant Leaders and rescinded their eviction notices to let tenants stay in their homes!
This win was only made possible because of persistent community organizing and direct action. Even when those in power fail us and the law is not on our side, we can still win – but only when we organize!
After receiving a tip from one of the tenants concerned about the threat of the LRT, an ACORN Organizer started knocking on doors. Very quickly tenants joined ACORN to create a local tenants union with many starting to knock on their neighbours’ doors too. Neighbours were able to get organized by holding regular meetings to discuss important common issues, propose solutions and determine tactics. This led to planning a wide range of actions with tons of media coverage which helped get eyes on the story and put public pressure on Smart Living and Forum Equities.
And the solidarity from other ACORN members, tenants, and allies from across the city created a groundswell of public support that only reinforced the Manor Village ACORN tenants’ union’s efforts. Moreover, Manor Village ACORN members are extremely grateful for Raven Law’s legal advice and representation had we gone to a hearing. Layering ACORN’s tenant organizing with a legal strategy from volunteer lawyers is a deadly combo for corporate landlords.
These are the steps that need to be taken to fight bad landlords. Because tenant wins don’t often come from the Landlord Tenant Board, they’re won through resistance and by fighting back!
While this was a big win for remaining Manor Village tenants who get to keep their homes, nearly a 100 households left during this process – either taking an early buyout and being priced out of the city, or by taking a buyout that will run out in a few years. When the money runs out, tenants will be stuck paying hundreds of dollars (even a thousand for some) in extra rent each month for smaller apartments with less community supports available to them. Not to mention Smart Living is now renting out those once affordable units for three times the price. THIS is how Ottawa is losing 7 units of affordable housing for every unit of social housing built.
With the massive growth of large corporate landlords acquiring more and more below market rentals to flip them for profit, the housing crisis we’re in is only getting worse. This is why ACORN members are fighting to put an end to renovictions and the financialization of housing!
BOLD action is needed from every level of government to make this happen:
1. The City needs to create a city-wide anti-renoviction bylaw that would protect tenants’ rent and stop displacement.
2. The Province needs to close rent control loopholes that incentivize landlords to evict long term tenants by implementing vacancy control – this would set a cap on how much landlords can increase rents by when tenants move out.
3. The Federal Government needs to set limits to how much housing financialized landlords can acquire and enable non-profit housing providers, co-ops and land trusts to purchase at-risk rental buildings when they come on the market.
Governments won’t make these changes unless we put SIGNIFICANT pressure on them to do so, and tenants can’t afford to be left behind. ACORN won’t stop fighting until things get done!