Developer vs Working Class in the Downtown East
BY Gaétan Héroux & John Clarke
For years, anti-poverty activists and community members demanded that the city expropriate the vacant lots at 214-230 Sherbourne St., just south of Dundas Street, and build affordable housing on them.
The city eventually put in a bid in March 2022, but the city’s offer was rejected by the private owners in favour of a bid from KingSett Capital. This Bay Street investment company is listed as “Canada’s leading private equity real estate investment firm.”
Now, the community is preparing for an epic battle with KingSett after the company announced plans to build a 47-storey condominium at the site, located in the heart of one of Toronto’s oldest working-class neighbourhoods.
Kingsett and The City
KingSett Capital has had an ongoing relationship with the city and Mayor John Tory.
In 2021, Create TO, a city agency, announced that it was partnering with KingSett and Greenwin to develop 705 Warden Ave., one of 17 sites owned by the city to be developed for social housing. Although the new site will include 575 units, fewer than half of those will be designated “affordable.”
The sale of a building at 877 Yonge St. in the summer of 2019, which was purchased by the city a year and a half later, remains mysterious and controversial, with KingSett at the centre of the affair. The building was operated by Davenhill Senior Living, a non-profit organization. On July 3 of that summer, the 150 seniors living in the residence were informed that they faced eviction by the end of the year. At that time, the property was listed as being owned by a numbered company, 2692518 Ontario Inc., which had been formed only days earlier by KingSett.
According to media reports at the time, KingSett representatives refused to comment on the situation. In April 2021, the building was sold to the city, which intended to use it as affordable housing. According to the Toronto Sun, the city paid $94.9 million—four times the market value of the property—and it is likely it was purchased from KingSett.
Editor’s note: When asked why the city paid nearly four times the 2016 appraised value of the property, a city spokesperson said the final purchase price "was based on independent appraisals obtained by the City prior to completing the transaction." No one from Kingsett responded to The Grind's requests for comment by publication time.
The Downtown East
Redevelopment in the Downtown East and Regent Park has threatened the existing social infrastructure, including services for poor and homeless people such as community health centres, supervised consumption sites, day shelters, hostels, legal clinics and a soup kitchen.
Across from 214-230 Sherbourne is the All Saints’ Church, which has been offering services to Toronto’s most impoverished residents for more than half a century. Seaton House and the Salvation Army’s Maxwell Meighen’s shelter, which together at their peak sheltered more than a thousand men a night, are both just a few blocks from the contested property.
If it moves forward, the Kingsett development will threaten this entire infrastructure and displace more of the working poor and the homeless from the Downtown East.
In 2021, Moss Park, located a few blocks south of the proposed condo project, was the site of one of the largest encampments in Toronto. Late this fall, some 25 tents were erected in Allan Gardens, a block away from the empty boarded-up Victorian mansion at 230 Sherbourne St., the Dineen house.
The Downtown East has always welcomed the working poor, the unemployed, and the homeless, and it has a history of resistance dating back to the 1880s. In the early 1970s, a fight to save rooming houses from gentrification led to the city buying up a huge number of rooming houses in the area.
In the mid-1980s, the death of Drina Joubert, a homeless woman who froze to death in an abandoned truck behind 230 Sherbourne St., led to the formation of the Housing not Hostel Coalition. There was no subsidized housing for single adults at the time, and the Coalition eventually won the right for single adults to get subsidized housing. Three thousand units of affordable housing for single adults were subsequently built. Sixty-one of these people are living at a housing unit provided by All Saints Church at the corner of Dundas and Sherbourne.
230 Fight Back
Recently, a small group of us have come together to form the 230 Fight Back Campaign. Their goal is to stop KingSett. The proposed condo tower does absolutely nothing to address the problems that poor people experience everyday, nor is it a solution to the housing needs of those who live in the Downtown East.
The city needs either to expropriate 214-230 Sherbourne or begin to negotiate the purchase of the properties with KingSett.
Admittedly, this is a formidable David and Goliath battle. Those waging it do not have billions of dollars in assets, but plan to create a resistance in the Downtown East which the city and KingSett will not be able to ignore. They will refuse to be pushed out. Building on the long and proud history of resistance of this working class neighbourhood, 230 Fight Back will take up this struggle with every intention of winning it.
This article appears in the December 2022 - January 2023 Issue. A longer version was originally published by
Canadian Dimension and is available at canadiandimension.com.