146-170 Osgoode Street next to the University of Ottawa. Photo: Bridget Coady/Fulcrum
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Eviction notices for the roughly 16 affected tenants are set for Oct.31

Students, seniors, and those with disabilities living in affordable housing between the addresses of 146 and 170 Osgoode Street in Sandy Hill are facing a mass eviction on Nov.1. With the eviction notice affecting over 16 people, University of Ottawa law professors are opening up their classrooms, from a distance, to assist tenants.

“We are talking about a housing crisis,” said Sloane Mulligin, a voluntary support organizer for the coalition Tenants of 146-170 Osgoode St. vs. Renovictions. “This is happening right in front of our eyes. This is the time when people need to step in, question, and challenge it.”

Many of the tennant living within the 13-address strip, most depend on the municipally licenced lower-income shared rooming housing as they cannot afford current market rates for rental apartments.

According to Shelley VanBuskirk, director of housing at the City of Ottawa, the number of people on the waitlist for social low-income housing in Ottawa has increased by 882 (7 per cent) since Dec. 31, 2019. Consequently, the number of people experiencing homelessness has risen from 90 individuals to approximately 150. Roughly 1,900 individuals also use an emergency shelter on any given night. 

“It’s everybody’s responsibility to take care of their neighbour and to at least question when there are enormous economic changes to a neighbourhood,” said Mulligin.

Sloane Mulligin puts up posters for last Saturday’s Book Sale. Photo: Bridget Coady/Fulcrum

Sixty-eight-year-old George Reed has been living in one of these apartments for twenty years. He has had a number of different jobs including baking in the 1960s and running printing presses in the 1990s. Shy, he said he keeps to himself, and has hobbies such as reading books and photography.

Reliant on his minimal pension, the eviction notice brings on an unsettling dilemma especially as this residence has been his long-term home. Moreover, he does not have access to a vehicle for moving and does not have family living in the region. 

Like other residents, Reed is in limbo, concerned that come Nov.1 he’ll be left on the street. With his love for reading, it was his idea to hold a book sale this past Saturday to raise funds for legal assistance.

The eviction notice, which falls under N13 (Notice to Terminate at End of the Term for Conversion, Demolition, or Repairs), was first distributed on June 30 for a move-out deadline of Oct. 31 by the landlord, Smart Living Properties.

For Smart Living Properties, the motive for eviction is to improve and renovate all of the buildings in question. 

 “Our aim is to perform necessary improvements to the building which had fallen into serious disrepair in the past. In fact, the building is almost unlivable, and it’s not possible to complete the renovations while tenants are there,” said CEO Tamer Abaza in a news release on Sept. 13.

“We recognize that moving is a major upheaval to anyone’s life, so it is important to help and support the tenants in finding a new home,” said Abaza. The press release continues to also state that more than 80 per cent of the tenants are already in new accommodations.

In response to these statements, tenants have taken to Twitter to display the varying condition of the buildings. While some are filled with cockroaches, rats, and bedbugs, some units remain in good condition.

“In reality, there has been ongoing, willful, and dangerous neglect of some buildings by owners while other buildings remain quite livable and pleasant,” said the coalition in a tweet. 

Bug infestation at 146 Osgoode Street. Photo: Karli Zschogner/Fulcrum

When asked again about the tenants request to stay in recently renovated rooms as an alternative, an independent communications representative for Smart Living Properties,  said that cannot be an option for health and safety reasons.

“There cannot be anyone residing in the location during renovations. Smart Living Properties is working with the few remaining tenants for relocation according to his or her specific needs and preferences. The goal is for everyone to be in suitable accommodation.”

Mulligin notes the impact of perpetuating further homelessness particularly when there already are large waiting lists for affordable and community housing.

“It’s important to me because people are going to be displaced which also leads to greater homelessness numbers,” said Mulligin. “Everyone deserves a shelter over their head.”

Earlier this year, the coalition collectively sent two demand letters, one on Aug. 5 requesting more information and options and another on Sept. 1 asking for a willingness to negotiate along with six other demands. 

“We have major concerns with Mr. Bielecki’s proposals, because they are insufficient to address the needs of all tenants affected by your decision to renovict,” stated the tenants’ second letter.

 “Some of us have been homeless in the past. Many have various forms of disability and many are on social assistance. Some of the tenants are students living with disabilities and struggling with student loans. Your decision to renovict is unfair, unreasonable, and cruel.”

In response to the initial demand letter, the landlord and shareholders involved offered three different eviction options in hopes of making the transition easier: reimbursing the tenant 12 month’s worth of their current rent, reimbursing three months’ rent with the offer of moving services, new furniture assistance, and assistance in locating other units for rent, or, going to court under the Landlord-Tenant Board with no support. These three choices remain the only options for tenants. 

Mathieu Fleury, City of Ottawa Councillor for Ward 12 Rideau-Vanier and chair of the Ottawa Community Housing Board said he has spoken with the new property owners. “I’ve asked them for compassion. I’ve asked them to engage more with the tenants,” he said. “They have a social responsibility.”

“I think the approach [of renoviction] is concerning as we are in a very vulnerable position because there’s very low vacancy and the units these tenants are in are generally affordable and there’s not a lot of similar units available,” he said.

Compelled by the eviction plans, David Wiseman, associate professor under U of O’s faculty of common law, has decided to turn his 15-student four-credit Access to Justice Lab into an experiential learning class to support the tenants.

“Housing is a human right and all have a right to have accessible housing,”  Wiseman explained. “Especially during a pandemic, where by law we are to stay home and stay safe, there is full knowledge that some tenants are elderly or immunocompromised.”

One of tenants living between 146 and 170 Osgoode Street. Photo: Bridget Coady/Fulcrum

Wiseman and the students are partnering with U of O professor and lawyer Daniel Tucker-Simmons as well as Ottawa Acorn – an organization, which hosts public information sessions on tenant rights.

Alongside his students, Wiseman would be able to offer three main services: interview tenants to gather information, help tenants fill out forms and navigating the Landlord-Tenant Board and municipal property standards, and provide assistance in laying out the facts of the law within the Landlord-Tenant board and Ontario Human Rights Code.

He is optimistic about putting forth a human rights case around the legitimacy of the evictions and the inquiry and constructive discrimination. Additionally, Wiseman believes the University as a whole has a responsibility, not just to the students who would be living there, but to the Sandy Hill community. 

Editor’s Note (29/09/2020, 2:25 p.m.): Thirty-six of the fifty tenants have now accepted one of the two eviction options presented to them by Smart Living Properties.