Landlord Dream Unlimited touts charitable giving, but more than 50 food banks, faith institutions and community organizations urge them to follow rent control.
A coalition of more than 50 food banks, faith and community organizations announced their support of hundreds of tenants on rent strike at 33 King St and 22 John St in Toronto’s Weston neighbourhood. The buildings share the same corporate landlord, Dream Unlimited, who has been increasing rents far above rent control over the last five years and has now begun the process of mass evictions.
Bryan Douthwright, a housing worker from Weston King Neighbourhood Centre, began the open letter of community solidarity after seeing firsthand the impact of the excessive rent increases in the buildings. “Our food bank and meal program have never been so busy, and every day someone new comes into our centre because they can’t afford their rent.” Weston King Neighbourhood Centre opted to decline a donation from Dream Unlimited’s Community Foundation in solidarity with tenants on rent strike. “We won't build relationships with a donor who hits us with one hand and pretends to help us with the other. No act or amount of so-called charity will fix the problems that Dream Unlimited has created and intensified by increasing rents so exuberantly” says Douthwright. “Seeing our neighbours take such a brave stand against such massive rent increases was really inspiring, and I want them to know that the community has their back.”
More than 50 local organizations are part of a growing list of signatories urging Dream Unlimited President and CEO, Michael Cooper and Community Foundation Chair Kyrstal Koo, to follow rent control and come to a fair agreement with the buildings’ tenant union at a time where Dream Unlimited has refused negotiations and begun the process of mass evictions.
Shaneeza Nazseer Ally, Executive Director For Youth Initiative, an organization serving Black, racialized and newcomer youth in the York South-Weston is one of more than 50 signatories of the letter. “We were shocked to learn that rather than negotiate with the tenant union, Dream Unlimited has decided to further displace racialized families by filing to evict them from their homes and from our community.” She adds, “as a bare minimum young people need stable housing to thrive. Unstable housing creates a lack of safety for for youth that can lead so many undesirable choies and missed opportunities. Forcing familiest out of their homes is a community safety concern which is why For Youth Initiative stands in full solidarity with tenants’ fight for rent control.”
The neighbouring mosque, Hadi Islamic Association, is also backing the rent strike. “Many members of our mosque are participating in this peaceful rent strike to demand rent control” says Sheikh Bashir. “They are standing together to demand fair rent and we stand with them,” he adds.
Rejwan Karim, Director Community Programs and Partnership Development of Access Alliance Multicultural Community and Health Services signed onto the letter because “nowhere are the social determinants of health more obvious than in housing. Not only is the high cost of housing making families more food insecure than ever before, but housing insecurity takes a real toll on people’s mental and physical health.” He adds, “That’s why Access Alliance stands behind the residents of 33 King and 22 John in their fight for rent control.”
Sharlene Henry, co-chair of the York South-Weston Tenant Union and resident at 33 King says she’s always been proud to call Weston her home and the community solidarity affirms it. “The widespread community support for our rent strike is just one more reason to love Weston and to continue to fight to call it home” she says. “Dream Unlimited is trying to squeeze us out of our homes despite record profits - but we’re standing up for each other with support of our whole community. We’re stronger together, and together we will win!” she adds.