A coalition of anti-poverty activists has put forward a proposal that calls on the city to expropriate privately held vacant lands in order to build affordable housing units in a downtown neighbourhood.

The proposal unveiled Wednesday by The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) and Open Architecture Collaborative Toronto (OACTo), calls on the city to purchase a series of seven adjacent properties at 214-230 Sherbourne Street in the City’s Garden District.

The proposal envisions a 22-storey building with 150 to 260 units of publicly-owned, rent-geared-to-income units to house poor and homeless people, with onsite meal and health services.

According to its proponents, the proposal is a reaction to a “deadly” housing crisis in Toronto, where vacancies are low, rents are high and most new developments are for private condos.

“The significance of the development proposal that we’re launching today is that it will radically transform Dundas and Sherbourne into a vibrant community, but for the benefit of its most marginalized residents rather than at their expense,” said OCAP organizer Yogi Acharya.

The buildings were listed for sale in 2018, but were taken off the market. OCAP claims that the owners delisted the property in response to interest from the city, choosing to hold out for a better offer from developers.

OCAP has been targeting the property for expropriation for years, charging that the vacant properties on Sherbourne “taunt the homeless while tempting property speculators” in the midst of a housing crisis.

The owners of the property did not immediately respond to a request for comment through their lawyers.

To make their point, the group dumped dirt at the door of Mayor John Tory’s office at city hall last month.

Responding to the demand for expropriation, Tory told reporters that expropriation constitutes a “great power” that the city has at its disposal and cannot be used lightly.

“This will have to go through an orderly process, “Tory said. “I’m sure someone will look at the Sherbourne Street site as one possibility in that regard.”

He noted that the city has already set aside 11 of its own properties for conversion to affordable housing and said a staff report expected this coming fall is expected to identify other possible sites where the city could build affordable housing.

As OCAP announced the proposal for the Sherbourne site Wednesday, Tory tweeted that the city’s planning and housing committee will approve a plan to fund an additional 3,200 housing subsidies.

The subsidies provide a fixed-amount housing benefit to eligible households, usually those in the private rental market, to bridge the gap between income and rent. More than 5,400 households in the city already receive the allowances. The new subsidies will be funded through a $159.8 million partnership with the federal and provincial governments.