• Grayson Alabiso-Cahill, Law Student, University of Toronto and Volunteer, Federation of Metro Tenants’Associations
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new urgency to the need to address the housing crisis and the suffering and loss associated therewith. The Toronto Foundation conservatively estimates 130,000 renters in Toronto are at risk of being evicted from their homes due to COVID related rental arrears. With the second wave of the pandemic upon us, and no new provincial evictions ban in sight, this panel will explore novel solutions to the housing crisis with a focus on the role of municipal governance.
The FMTAs recent report, Taking Back our Housing, themakes a series of specific proposals for how expropriation could be used to address the housing crisis in Toronto by expanding the supply of affordable and not-for-profit housing.
Other cities across Canada and internationally have been making headlines for doing just this:
- In Vancouver, city council voted unanimously to expropriate two buildings in the Downtown East Side for one dollar each, citing health and safety concerns as well as bad-faith negotiation on the part of the landowners
- Montréal’s city council recently voted in favour of using “pre-emptive right” to purchase a vacant six-story building in the Parc-Extension neighbourhood to redevelop it as social housing instead of luxury condos, as previously planned
- A group of tenants in Minneapolis, Minnesotasuccessfully advocated to have their landlord’s rental licence revoked, staving off a wave of evictions and clearing the way for collective ownership of the building
- And there is a growing movement in Berlin, Germanyto have a referendum on expropriating one of Germany’s largest corporate landlords, Deutsche Whonen
These actual and proposed uses of expropriation evoke a longstanding desire within left politics to see that “the expropriators are expropriated”. Yet they also stir the spectre of expropriations past, wherein the local state has facilitated the dispossession of poor, racialized and other marginalized groups.
Toronto based examples include recent municipal partnerships with the private sector to “revitalize” public housing and create mixed income neighbourhoods in Regent Park and Don Mount Court, which caused multiple harms including displacement and community fragmentation. In Parkdale in the 1950s, the City bulldozed hundreds of working-class homes in the name of "slum clearance" to make way for the Gardiner expressway. Indeed, City Hall itself was the site of a major expropriation of poor and racialized people who lived in the Ward, Toronto's first "slum". And, of course, Indigenous peoples have faced expropriation from the land by all levels of government for hundreds of years.
So, is expropriation fatally flawed, a “boogeyman” for liberals and leftists alike? Or, is it a potentially crucial measure, at a time when housing financialization is rampant and public re-investment is desperately needed? This panel will address these and other questions pertaining to municipal governance and housing such as:
- What are the primary causes and drivers of the housing crisis? What has been the impact of the pandemic on housing issues?
- What are the chief challenges for municipalities in addressing the housing crisis and how can these be overcome? What measures exist for municipalities to address the housing crisis during the pandemic and beyond?
- What is expropriation? Is it a boogeyman or a boon and for whom? Do the expropriation proposals contained in the FMTA report chart a viable path towards expanded social and affordable housing stock? How do these proposals fit within the broader municipal governance toolbox?
- Who lives in the kinds of buildings that the report proposes to expropriate and what kinds of protections would need to be put in place to ensure that expropriation brings benefits and does not cause harms such as displacement or homelessness for existing occupants?
- Given that poor and racialized people and people with disabilities are disproportionately likely to be living in unsafe and poorly maintained housing, what are the dangers in expropriating in the name of health and safety? If so, how might these be effectively addressed or overcome?