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Toronto's striking tenants raise alarm on 'predatory' landlord set to develop city waterfront

Some Toronto residents are speaking out against a company chosen to develop a 12-acre lot on the city’s waterfront, arguing they have raised rent in other buildings by an “outrageous” amount.

In 2022, Dream Unlimited, a Toronto-based developer, was selected as one of two construction companies to take the lead on the project, set to include more than 800 affordable housing units in the first phase of development.

However, according to tenants with the York-South Weston Tenant Union, many of whom live in buildings owned by the Toronto-based developer, Dream is unfit for the task of developing the property and keeping housing affordable.

“We know what happens when public land is given to a predatory landlord like Dream Unlimited,” the tenant union said in a statement issued on its website.

The tenants, who reside at 22 John St. and 33 King St. in Toronto, claim that Dream has imposed “outrageous” rental increases on them while refusing to engage in a negotiation process. Documents reviewed by CP24 increases put in place by Dream in 2023 varied from 4.94 per cent to 5.5 per cent.

In turn, many of the tenants have been withholding rental payments since early summer.

Roughly 100 tenants and union representatives rallied in front of 33 King Street in York-South Weston, demanding the landlord respect rent control. (Allison Hurst/CTV News Toronto)

The tenants argue that Dream cannot be trusted to introduce the kind of deeply affordable housing needed amidst the city’s housing crisis.

“This is public land,” Chiara Padovani, co-chair of York South-Weston Tenant Union, told CTV News Toronto in an interview on Saturday. “It’s land that you and I pay for.”

The group has started a petition, intended to be delivered to WaterFront Toronto, asking to have Dream removed from the project. It has garnered just over 130 signatures of its 200 goal at the time of publication.

When reached for comment, Dream Unlimited told CTV News Toronto it continues to address the city’s ongoing housing crisis.

“We will work with Waterfront Toronto to build much needed housing and new public spaces in a zero-carbon, masterplanned community,” a statement by the company said.

In response to tenants’ claims of costly increases, the developer says it inherited a number of above-guideline rental increase applications amid the sale of 33 King St. in 2018. As for John Street., Dream underlines the residence is a luxury build, constructed after 2018 and therefore not rent controlled.

The company also stressed that the waterfront project is a completely separate entity from its dealings at King and John.

“The goal of acquiring 22 John Street and 33 King Street was to increase affordable housing and to improve the lives of its residents,” the company said.

“At Quayside, we will create a sustainable community and continue to add affordable housing units to the city,” it continued, adding it was “proud” to be part of both projects.

The City of Toronto told CTV News Toronto Tuesday that, while Dream is set to construct the project, it is not intended to be involved in ownership or operation of the affordable rental housing units once completed.

“The Quayside development partners, Dream Unlimited and Great Gulf, are involved in supporting the construction of the affordable rental units and, through a contractual agreement with Waterfront Toronto, are supplying the land (or the gross floor area) for the units,” it said.

After construction has finished, the city, in partnership with not-for-profit organizations, will assume the role of site operations.

The city also underlined that Dream was selected through a public, competitive process.

Torontonians will remember that the space was previously sought after by Google affiliate, Sidewalk Labs. The company had hoped to convert the 12-acre site into a high-tech neighbourhood complete with public wi-fi, heated and illuminated sidewalks and so-called “raincoats” for buildings.

That $1.3 billion proposal had also drawn criticism from privacy experts over its potential use of data and from members of the Indigenous community who accused the company of not doing enough to include recommendations made by the group.

Sidewalk Labs bowed out of the development process in May of 2020 due to the “unprecedented economic uncertainty” brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alongside affordable housing, the Quayside development is set to boast a two-acre forested green space, a multi-use arts venue, and an urban farm that will be housed on top of one of Canada’s largest residential mass timber buildings.

The city has previously said that, pending approvals, shovels are expected to be in the ground by 2025 and the first occupancy at the site is targeted for 2030.

A rendering of a section of the proposed Quayside project in Toronto. (Source: Henning Larsen)

With files from CP24's Chris Fox and CTV News Toronto's Phil Tsekouras. Top Stories

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