[Hpn] Squatters clean, repair building
Thu, 8 Aug 2002 06:59:46 -0400
Thestar.com/Squatters clean, repair building
Poverty activists won't end protest until city takes over
By Kerry Gillespie
city hall bureau
Michael Stuparyk/TORONTO STAR
PROTEST WITH A VIEW: Housing advocate Chris Neale stands in a room
overlooking King St. W. in an abandoned row house taken over by the Ontario
Coalition Against Poverty two weeks ago. The group wants the building
converted to affordable housing.
A group of anti-poverty activists - long vilified by politicians and police
for its attention-grabbing antics - is working overtime to turn the
occupation of an abandoned Parkdale building into more than that.
Using donated materials, supporters of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
(OCAP) are cleaning and repairing floors, walls, ceilings and everything in
between in their bid to turn 1510 King St. W. into affordable housing.
But the group hopes professionals, with government money, will soon take
Dubbed the Pope Squat, OCAP occupied the building while Pope John Paul II
was in town two weeks ago, to draw attention to the city's housing crisis.
Yesterday, the squatters laid down the terms under which they would leave:
The province must turn the building over to the city, so it can make good on
its promise to use it for affordable housing; and four people who have been
living in the building since July 25 must be found homes.
But the councillor for the area has other ideas.
"The longer they stay, the bigger risk they take that there won't be any
social housing there at all," said Chris Korwin-Kuczynski (Ward 14,
He is determined not to let occupation of abandoned buildings become a
trend - OCAP has already identified 35 others in his Parkdale ward.
That's why he crafted the motion, overwhelmingly approved by council last
week, to ask the province for ownership of the building to turn it into
affordable housing only if the anti-poverty group leaves immediately.
"If they think they'll leave it and we'll double cross them, that is not the
case," Korwin-Kuczynski said.
But he warned if they stay and are eventually forced out by the police, and
the building still falls into city hands, it won't be used for affordable
housing. "We'll sell it.
"You have to make a stand," he explained. "This can't become a trend;
anarchy can't decide the future of anything."
As far as Toronto police are concerned, the squatters can stay until the
building's owner asks for them to be thrown out under the Trespass to
"Until the owner comes forward and says, `I don't want them there' ...
there's nothing we can do," said Sergeant Robb Knapper.
The owner appears to be the province, according to Brendan Crawley of the
The building was defaulted to the crown when the owner disappeared and
didn't pay his mortgages or debts.
But there are "numerous issues that muddy the title of the property,"
Crawley added. And until those are dealt with - including the numerous
mortgages and liens on the property - the province isn't prepared to comment
on what it will do with the property.
"We're working to clarify this as quickly as we can," he said.
If it is converted to affordable housing, the building could hold up to 26
"This is the perfect opportunity for (Premier Ernie) Eves and his cabinet to
show that they are somehow different from the Mike Harris government (that)
did all this social destruction," said NDP housing critic Michael Prue,
during OCAP's news conference yesterday at Queen's Park.
"The purpose of this is to call on Mr. Eves to react, to do something, to
show that he is different from Mr. Harris, to show that he cares about the
plight of the homeless in Toronto. It is a simple act."
When asked whether letting OCAP win this showdown would encourage activists
to take over more buildings, Prue said the confusion over ownership makes
this building different.
"You're not going to see hundreds of buildings being occupied," he said.
But OCAP spokesperson Sue Collis admitted the group is planning future
"We're in the process of identifying other buildings," she said.
In the Parkdale neighbourhood alone, OCAP has identified 35 abandoned
Collis said they are doing title searches to see if any are government owned
and therefore potential sites for future occupations.
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