A Cambridge landlord is offering $10,000 to tenants who turn in their keys as a massive renoviction in downtown Galt threatens to put people on the street while eliminating 60 units from the city's affordable housing inventory.
Early last Friday, tenants at the Tiger Lofts at 35 Water St. S. in Cambridge received a text from their landlord, saying the building owner wants them out.
“We feel kinda blindsided, saying you just have to be out,” said Sara Maxim, resident of 35 Water St. S. “It sort of feels like it's underhanded and they're trying to bully us out, because obviously what we pay is way below what rents are now.”
This has sent a panic through the building which has 54 affordable units with tenants who range from single income households to people enrolled in the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and the elderly.
Maxim has gone around and placed a note under all of the doors of her neighbours to try and organize a group to stand up and fight back.
Now the group has over half of the building committed to rallying against the removal of its tenants.
“I don’t want to move out, I’m not going anywhere,” said Lisa Geddes, another tenant in the building.
A spokesperson for the company that manages the property, Dubrick Property Management, said it does not have any comments at this time.
Attempts to reach the owners for comments were unsuccessful and the superintendent of Tiger Lofts said they could not comment on the issue either.
Geddes, along with Beverly Dejong, is on ODSP. They claim they are not able to afford another apartment in the city.
“Having been on wait lists for housing, it could take years and years to find another place,” said Dejong.
Geddes has been living in the building since it first opened in 2008 and now she feels like she is in danger of becoming homeless.
“I don’t know what the new owner is trying to do, add to the homeless population?” asked an upset Geddes. “If I have to leave here, I’ll end up on the streets.”
According to the group of residents, almost all of the tenants are afraid that if they stand up and try to fight this, they will be targeted by the management and ownership.
Chel Willard has been living in the building for the past four years and has been a key organizer along with Maxim. They fear they have been labelled trouble makers, but are determined to share their story and fight for their right to stay in their homes.
“We're really afraid that even if we fight this that we're kind of screwed, because you just get corporations coming in and they do what they want and the little guy gets screwed in the end,” said Willard.
"I've contacted everyone I can think of," said Maxim. "City councillors, region officials and even lawyers."
Pam Wolf is the city councillor for Ward 5 and sits as the chair for The Cambridge Affordable Housing Round Table. She said renovictions are becoming common practice in our region and it needs to be stopped.
“It's like we've got a leak in the boat,” said Wolf. “There's a lot of emphasis put on building new affordable housing, but we need to keep the existing housing from flipping.”
According to Wolf, most of the existing housing is 40-50 years old with expiring mortgages and this is very attractive to developers.
She said there is nothing stopping a developer or property owner from buying a building with affordable housing, removing tenants and charging higher rents.
This is true even if there is an agreed term limit for this housing (which is usually 20 years), all the property owner would have to do is pay back the original development fees that were waived.
“Because these fees would be from years and years ago, developers would think it’s a bargain to just pay them off and start charging more,” said Wolf.
The group of tenants have done research looking into their rights as residents and want to warn all of their neighbours to not be easily swayed into accepting what seems like a good deal.
“The $10,000 seems like a lot, but that's only around five months of rent,” said Willard.
Maxim said that one of the residents is going to take the money, because "the region will have to provide housing for her no matter what."
While the region does re-house individuals in certain situations, the wait times are so long that it could take years to be re-homed.
Dejong, who has a visual impairment, said you cannot exchange cash for keys.
"Even if I wanted to I couldn't. The government could take all of that money and you could be removed from the housing program for voluntarily giving up your housing," she said.
Dejong has become so reliant on knowing her surroundings, she is afraid if she moves she’ll have to start all over again.
“We use the food bank a lot, and I can walk there no problem, everything is around us. Sometimes I don’t need my cane when I leave the house, but if I’m forced to move then that all goes away,” she said.
The stress and anxiety this is causing the people living in the building is becoming so much that some are not being able to sleep.
“One resident told me, he said he hasn't slept in four days, because he's been too freaked out, this is seriously affecting people's lives,” said Willard.
Some of the members of this group trying to save their building are waiting to meet with the owner to tell them how they are feeling. Meetings with residents were supposed to start today, but were cancelled last minute.
The Region of Waterloo is looking into the issue and setting up a meeting with the property owner to discuss their role as an owner of affordable housing.