Gentrification, for renters who are poor, usually spells relocation — to another pocket likely in the inner suburbs, where rent is still cheap. Solution? A community land trust.
By: Catherine Porter Columnist, Published on Mon Nov 17 2014
St. Francis Table has been serving lunch and dinner to the poor and the ill of Parkdale for 27 years.
The friars charge $1 a meal, nine times a week.
Directly across Queen St. W., a new coffee shop called “The Tenant” has opened. There, you will find young professionals working on their Mac laptops, sipping $3.25 lattes at tables that look like raw slices of an ancient Douglas fir tree.
That just about sums up Parkdale’s current transition.
Bob Rose took me on a gentrification and poverty tour of the area, stopping before a brewery that was once a West Indian store, hipster boutiques where cheap corner stores once stood and delicious single-family brick houses with twinkling Christmas lights and wicker porch chairs.
“That was the worst rooming house, when I moved here. Now look at it,” Rose said with wonder, as we both stood, stunned by the beauty of one.
This is the stuff of dreams, if you’ve just bought your first house in the neighbourhood. Gentrification will make your short-term wanders prettier, and your long-term prospects richer.
But, if you are a poor renter, which most people in south Parkdale are, the picture is less rosy.
Gentrification, for them, usually spells relocation — to another pocket likely in the inner suburbs, where rent is still cheap and stores still sell canned goods, not hats.
“People who have lived here for years have the right to stay in the community,” Rose said. “But over time, they start to feel unwelcome. There’s no mechanism to address that.”
A community land trust.
Like the Georgian Bay Land Trust, the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust would assemble land — mostly given by generous donors — and hold it in trust for the community. While the Georgian Bay Land Trust’s mandate is to preserve pockets of raw nature, the Parkdale trust will preserve affordable housing and maybe community gardens for the poor.
That’s the hope at least. These are still early days.
The Parkdale trust exists more on paper than in person at this point, although it has a board, non-profit status and a ton of grant applications in the mail.
There are reasons to be optimistic. Most of them are in the United States: Chicago, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles, where land trusts were launched in the past couple of decades.
Successful models have also been built in Calgary and Vernon, B.C.
In most cases, the land is donated to the trust, or acquired through development negotiations. The trust then, leases the land to a non-profit housing provider.
The model’s strength is two-fold: It removes the land from the turbulent vagaries of the real estate market, so there is no chance of basement bargain sales when the housing agency loses its funding.
Second, the trust is run by a broad board of directors who equally represent neighbours, tenants and local agencies serving the poor.
This widens the tent, builds alliances and provokes some brainstorming about what people want their neighbourhood to look like, before development applications are posted.
That alone makes the trust worthwhile. Plus, I’m always for agency. Shaming governments has done little good these past couple decades. It’s time for some new affordable housing strategies.
In East London, the community land trust lobbied for 10 years before its efforts bore fruit: 23 affordable homes included in the redevelopment of a former mental hospital. Their organization, on paper, gave them a seat at the drafting table, said Kuni Kamizaki, the University of Toronto urban planning student whose Master’s degree research project on the feasibility of a community land trust in Parkdale led to his current full-time job at PARC, leading the project.
There are big challenges ahead, he conceded. The trust needs to secure charitable status. And there is the sticky problem of capital gains taxes on land gifts in Canada. “That’s a big piece we have to figure out,” he said.
The biggest trick will be getting landowners in Parkdale to donate their land to the public good.
On my tour, Rose and I wandered up a lovely neighbourhood street with big trees and bigger homes. We stopped before one with a “For Sale” sign taped to the white wood railings of the second floor porch. A man was hauling a couch to the curb.
It used to be a nursing home, he told us. Now, it’s a rooming house with 10 tenants and room for more.
When I got home, I checked the listing on MLS: “Grand architectural estate in gentrifying south Parkdale. Has been mainly used as owner’s residence and rental property, with versatile configuration suitable for many uses.”
Asking price: $2.4 million.
The best time to set up a land trust, it seems, is before gentrification sets in, when land is still cheap.
Article taken from theStar.com