12

Should cities seize empty buildings?

This building stood vacant for years, so Toronto expropriated it


 

Should cities seize empty buildings?

A decade ago, a rooming house in Toronto’s lower-income Parkdale area was ravaged by a fire that killed two residents and forced almost 50 others out onto the street. It stood derelict for years, an eyesore and—given the city’s need for housing—a waste of space. In 2006, Toronto expropriated the building to convert it into affordable units. Activists are now hoping it will be the first of many.

In Toronto, where about 128,000 people are on the waiting list for social housing, empty buildings could be an important resource. David Wachsmuth and Shiri Pasternak, co-founders of a group called Abandonment Issues, are pushing for a bylaw that would put them to use. They’re suggesting several measures, among them that the city create a definition of “abandonment,” and in some cases, expropriate buildings from neglectful owners. “You can’t treat [buildings] like anything else,” Pasternak says. “That property exists in a community.”

The two propose a vacancy tax, which would see landlords pay an escalating fee for each year they mothball a property (Winnipeg already has a similar system in place). Because many Toronto properties are left empty due to speculation, Wachsmuth says, the tax could “change the economic incentive, so owners decide to renovate the building and get people living in it, or sell it to someone who will.” Their proposal is under consideration by city officials, who plan to release a new affordable housing plan in the new year.

Back in Parkdale, the once-derelict rooming house is being rebuilt into 29 affordable units. Victor Willis, executive director of Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre, which is developing the site, says expropriation was the right thing to do. “It was not appropriate . . . to see this building sitting there underutilized,” he says. “It’s a community asset, and society has some right to it as well.”


 

Should cities seize empty buildings?

  1. “In 2006, Toronto expropriated the building to convert it into affordable units.”

    Seriously? Did the City pay anything at all for the building or did they just take it?

    This leaves me speechless, I had no idea Toronto was doing this. You want to know a good way to depress housing market, drive out middle classes and lower you tax base? Eliminating private property rights is a really good start.

  2. I wonder if Victor Willis considers his private property to be “community asset”s. If I own something I can do whatever I damn well please with it (short of things prohibited by the criminal code of course). If the city wants a property for whatever reason they can make the current owner an offer and he/she can choose to accept or decline said offer. Its hardly a surprise though, coming from the worst city council Toronto has ever had.

  3. Well Rick, what is being considered is exactly in line with your post. The proposal is either a tax disincentive for derelict buildings or a law against a certain level of abandonment. And criminal law isn’t the only thing that gets in the way of doing “whatever you damn well please” with your property. Height restrictions, building placement regulations and plenty of other building codes often get in the way of lofty dreams.

    The only thing I’d have a problem with would be unilateral appropriation, but I seriously doubt that’s what happened in TO. Someone’s been suggesting that here in Vancouver and there looks to be no way of that happening prior to new legislation or a standard buy-out.

  4. I love this article!! I live in Charlottetown where, anyone that knows anyone here, can confirm that we have a huge problem of vacant buildings in our dated downtown core!!! For such a small city I think its deplorable that we would have new buildings being built in and around the city, ignoring our the vacant prime downtown locations!!! The Federal Government needs to place some pressure on local governments to fix this issue. A lot of the buildings are owned by the same people and they seem to think that its cheaper to pay the taxes than to bring them up tp code to rent!!!! We need help!!!

  5. I love this article!! I live in Charlottetown where, anyone that knows anyone here, can confirm that we have a huge problem of vacant buildings in our dated downtown core!!! For such a small city I think its deplorable that we would have new buildings being built in and around the city, ignoring our the vacant prime downtown locations!!! The Federal Government needs to place some pressure on local governments to fix this issue. A lot of the buildings are owned by the same people and they seem to think that its cheaper to pay the taxes than to bring them up to code to rent!!!! We need help!!!

  6. What about that guy that left the PCO? Give us a story on him and what he’s doing now. You probalby could have fit it into this article if you hadn’t used up 400-600 words mancrushing…

  7. I have the distinct honour of knowing, albeit not incredibly well, a couple of the brilliant young people you have profiled in this piece. Possessed of good heartedness, generosity of spirit, genuine creativity, and the brain power to put it to practical use, they will go on to be world changers. I have never doubted that, even for a second, since the moment I met them.

    Brilliant piece on some very brilliant young people.

  8. I don’t care what your political persuasion, it is good to see young Canadians actively engaged at the highest levels in public service.

    I’m sure there are equally talented and committed young people in the Conservative Party and the NDP (all evidence to the contrary).

    The are committed and dedicated to bettering Canada in a way most of can never be bothered to do.

  9. Nothing like signing up for a political party after gaining a deep pre-teen understanding of politics and your political values.

    And anyone who thinks Rene Levesque is a source of inspiration is not very bright, and not befitting this role. But what does it say about Ignatieff…

  10. I have known Nina Suagh (the woman to Ignatieff’s left) since grade two and it gives me great pride and pleasure to know that success has followed her due to her hard work and determination. She was always smart, strong willed and articulate and a career with a political platform is what she has earned and deserves! I am proud of her!

  11. These kids should go back to school; get their law degrees or something valuable and then go waste their time in politics. Education first! Law school is much better than all this brouhaha.

  12. It is refreshing to read an article about highly successful young people when the under age 30 crowd often is dissed in the press. While the tone of the article is one of cynicism, who is to say a team of experienced and aging lawyer swould fare any better or have any more original ideas than these young people? They possess a freshness and lack of jadedness than their elders likely don’t.

Sign in to comment.