Longtime midtown Toronto tenants fear proposed condos will price them out of their neighbourhood

Megan Kee says the building is home to many seniors and lower income tenants who simply can't afford to move if the building at 55 Brownlow Ave. is demolished.  (Mike Smee/CBC - image credit)
Megan Kee says the building is home to many seniors and lower income tenants who simply can't afford to move if the building at 55 Brownlow Ave. is demolished. (Mike Smee/CBC - image credit)

More than 120 tenants in a midtown apartment building say they're worried they'll be forced out if the city approves a new development application in one of Toronto's most desirable neighbourhoods.

They live at 55 Brownlow Ave., a mid-rise building just a block west of Mount Pleasant Road and Eglinton Avenue East that's been targeted for redevelopment. That means they'll have to move once the developer's application is approved, likely within the next couple of years.

"Some of the tenants have lived in this building for over 50 years, and a lot of those people are [on] fixed incomes," said Megan Kee, a tenant who's helping to organize residents.

"They're low income, they're young families, they're seniors, and they can't afford to go anywhere else."

The Yonge-Eglinton area, because of its proximity to transit, has been identified by the province as a neighbourhood ripe for additional housing. The developer, Menkes, filed the rezoning application in 2021. It calls for the properties from 55 to 75 Brownlow to be demolished and replaced with three condo towers of 45, 40 and 35 storeys.

Mike Smee/CBC News
Mike Smee/CBC News

The developer says is in its application to the city that all 121 rental units at 55 Brownlow will be replaced within the new complex. CBC Toronto offered Menkes the opportunity to comment on this story. The company has not yet responded.

Coun. Josh Matlow, who represents the neighbourhood as part of Ward 12, Toronto-St. Paul's, said city regulations guarantee the current tenants will be given first right of refusal on those new units at rents comparable to what they're paying now.

Matlow said in the crunch to find more housing for more people,  the province has designated the Yonge-Eglinton neighbourhood, with its easy access to pubic transit, an "Urban Growth Centre," meaning the city's expected to adapt its zoning rules to allow for more new residents. And that means more new housing developments.

He said he accepts the need for growth in the area. But he warned current residents must not be priced out of their neighbourhoods.

"The reality is the necessity to ensure people's quality of life keeps up with that growth," Matlow said.

City of Toronto
City of Toronto

Matlow, who said said it will likely be a couple of years before any demolition happens at 55 Brownlow, also pointed out the city has regulations that force developers to replace any rental housing they demolish, provided the old building contains at least six units.

"We have negotiated some very, very good agreements" for tenants, Matlow said. " We have to be laser focused on [tenants'] ability to live in their own neighbourhoods."

But not all the Brownlow residents are buying into the idea that they'll be offered new units on the same street at comparable rents.

Wanda Barrett has had a one-bedroom unit in the building for the past eight-and-a-half years. Her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter are also tenants.

Mike Smee/CBC
Mike Smee/CBC

"It's not just the money, it would split up my family," she said. "It's been very stressful for all of us."

She also said she's skeptical about the developer's promise to offer them all replacement units in the new building.

"I find it hard to believe the developers could find us two apartments in the same building, or whether they care enough," she said.

"And what happens in 10 years time when I'm 85 and they want to kick me out for the higher rent? It's just very stressful. I'm worried," she said.

"I'm losing sleep over it."

Her daughter Gala Barrett, a nurse, says she's also concerned about moving from an affordable unit in today's market.

"I can't afford to live in this community anymore if this building goes."

As for the city and the developer's assertion that they'll be able to move back into the new complex?

"It's great in theory. Are they good for their word? It's 100 per cent a trust issue," she said.

"Who's going to stand up for us?"

Not 'NIMBYism'

Kee, a tenant in the building for seven years, said the residents' aim is to stop the demolition of 55 Brownlow and get the developers to redesign the plans for the rest of the site around it.

She said the residents don't have a not-in-my-back-yard, or NIMBY, attitude about greater density in their neighbourhood.

"It's a very different situation than NIMBYism in my perspective," she said.

"This is these people's homes. If you don't have a home, everything else in your life falls apart."

Geoff Hayworth, of the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations, has been helping the Brownlow tenants organize. He says his organization has seen more and more viable rental buildings bulldozed in favour of condos.

"Actually it's becoming quite common," he said.

"This is a regular occurrence in Toronto these days. There's a lot of buildings in fairly good repair that are getting torn down for a quick buck."