‘No one is safe’ in Park­dale

Com­mu­nity le­gal clinic has helped ten­ants fight land­lords for nearly 50 years. Now it’s the one be­ing evicted

Toronto Star - - GREATER TORONTO AREA - ALYSHAH HASHAM COURTS RE­PORTER

With­out help from the Park­dale Com­mu­nity Le­gal Ser­vice’s clinic in fight­ing an il­le­gal evic­tion from his home of sev­eral years, Phil MacIn­nis says he would be home­less — or dead.

Now it’s the clinic fac­ing evic­tion and un­cer­tainty about its fu­ture lo­ca­tion, with Park­dale res­i­dents con­cerned it may be re­lo­cated away from the com­mu­nity it has helped fight rent in­creases and bad land­lords since 1971.

In mid-Oc­to­ber, the clinic was served with a ter­mi­na­tion no­tice by land­lord Martin Usher, or­der­ing it to va­cate the of­fice space it has rented for 18 years by Jan. 1, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by the clinic at a com­mu­nity meet­ing Wed­nes­day.

The clinic ar­gues this vi­o­lates the terms of its lease agree­ment. A new build­ing is be­ing con­structed at the site, and the clinic was to move to the new build­ing’s third floor, pay­ing in­creased rent af­ter a brief re­lo­ca­tion dur­ing the con­struc­tion phase.

“Our clinic is fac­ing un­cer­tainty in our ten­ancy,” said Jo­hanna Mac­Don­ald, the clinic’s di­rec­tor, at a packed com­mu­nity meet­ing at

the clinic lo­ca­tion at 1266 Queen St. W. on Wed­nes­day night. Ne­go­ti­a­tions with the land­lord con­tinue, she told the room, adding the land­lord said the clinic may be able to stay on for a short time past Jan. 1.

In the mean­time, Mac­Don­ald said the clinic is ex­pected to con­tinue to pro­vide ser­vices and rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Still, the land­lord is “not agree­ing to abide by our cur­rent agree­ment,” she said.

In an email, Usher, the build­ing’s owner, told the Star his fam­ily has been ac­tive in the Park­dale com­mu­nity for nearly 50 years and has rented space to the Park­dale clinic for “ex­tremely low rent” for nearly 30 years.

“Un­for­tu­nately the cost of op­er­a­tions has sadly not per­mit­ted this to con­tinue and though we have tried to deal with Park­dale Com­mu­nity Clinic in a fair and re­spect­ful fash­ion, they seem not to want to ap­pre­ci­ate the need to rec­og­nize mod­ern­day costs,” he said.

The Star sent Usher the clinic’s spe­cific al­le­ga­tions that the ter­mi­na­tion no­tice had bro­ken the terms of the lease agree­ment, but did not re­ceive a re­sponse.

In a Thurs­day in­ter­view, Mac­Don­ald said she still be­lieves a so­lu­tion can be found as ne­go­ti­a­tions con­tinue. She said the sup­port from the com­mu­nity shown on Wed­nes­day was “pow­er­ful” and in­di­cates how im­por­tant is to find a long-term so­lu­tion for the clinic. Ad­dress­ing the meet­ing, board mem­ber Bryan Da­ley noted the irony of the sit­u­a­tion — that the clinic is now fight­ing the same pres­sures that brought him to the clinic in the first place.

“It shows that no one is safe from what is hap­pen­ing with gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, even an or­ga­ni­za­tion like PCLS,” he said in an in­ter­view. “It’s al­most scary to see some­one who has your back and is there to sup­port you is be­ing pushed away.”

The evic­tion comes as Park­dale faces the pres­sures of rapid gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, in­clud­ing rent hikes and the loss of af­ford­able hous­ing.

Coun­cil­lor Gord Perks (Ward 4), who rep­re­sents the area, said the clinic re­mains vi­tally im­por­tant to the com­mu­nity. The clinic’s cur­rent cir­cum­stances il­lus­trate a “huge cri­sis” fac­ing the area as im­por­tant neigh­bour­hood ser­vices are be­ing priced out.

At the meet­ing, Mac­Don­ald told Park­dale res­i­dents the clin- ic’s funder, Le­gal Aid On­tario, had not yet agreed to fund a lease longer than a year, a term she said is too short for sta­bil­ity.

In an in­ter­view, Jayne Mallin, a vice-pres­i­dent of Le­gal Aid On­tario, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion is fully com­mit­ted to keep­ing the clinic based in Park­dale. She said in­terim solutions have been dis­cussed that might in­clude giv­ing the clinic some rent-free space on Univer­sity Ave. to use, as well as finding space at other Park­dale com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions to min­i­mize dis­rup­tion.

“Ev­ery so­lu­tion we have been work­ing on with the clinic has in­cluded an op­tion for them to re­main in Park­dale,” she said, adding that LAO un­der­stands the im­por­tance of the clinic main­tain­ing a space in the com­mu­nity. Mallin said the or­ga­ni­za­tion is hope­ful the clinic and land­lord will be able to come to a res­o­lu­tion, and if not, will work with the clinic to find an ap­pro­pri­ate space in the neigh­bour­hood in the long-term.

Past clients of the clinic say the ser­vices they ac­cessed there changed their lives and stress the im­por­tance of keep­ing the clinic in the neigh­bour­hood. Mau­reen Adams came to the clinic be­cause she needed help re­unit­ing with her son af­ter she left Bar­ba­dos with her young daugh­ter be­cause of an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship in 2013.

She got the as­sis­tance she needed and said the ac­ces­si­ble lo­ca­tion of the clinic made a big dif­fer­ence.

“If you are go­ing to school, you are tak­ing care of a baby, even if you are work­ing you aren’t go­ing to get a day off to say I need to go to Park­dale Le­gal, but it’s right here in the com­mu­nity,” she said.

Tser­ing Pal­don, a set­tle­ment worker at the nearby Park­dale In­ter­cul­tural As­so­ci­a­tion, works closely with the clinic in help­ing the area’s large Ti­betan com­mu­nity with hous­ing and im­mi­gra­tion is­sues.

“Ev­ery­one who doesn’t know what to do comes here,” she said.

Phil MacIn­nis says the com­mu­nity will rally to sup­port the clinic which em­pow­ered him to fight for his own rights. “If this place goes be­cause they want to put lofts here, it’s a shame,” he said. “This has to stay in Park­dale. If it doesn’t there are go­ing to be so many peo­ple lost.”

RICHARD LAUTENS TORONTO STAR

Mau­reen Adams got help re­unit­ing with her son af­ter she left an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship in Bar­ba­dos in 2013.

RICHARD LAUTENS TORONTO STAR

Client and Park­dale res­i­dent Choekyi Dor­jee, left, talks with Tser­ing Pal­don, a set­tle­ment worker who refers many peo­ple to Park­dale Com­mu­nity Le­gal Ser­vices.

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