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Ottawa: Evicted Heron Gate residents file human rights complaint over landlord's 'hyper-gentrification'

Tuesday April 2, 2019

Demolition of 150 townhouses in Heron Gate Village was completed last winter. Fourteen former tenants have filed a human rights complaint against the owner, Timbercreek, and the City of Ottawa. TONY CALDWELL / JPG

OTTAWA - Fourteen former tenants of Heron Gate Village have launched a human rights complaint about their eviction, claiming the landlord forced them out of their racialized and immigrant community in a “hyper-gentrification” of the area in order to build high-income housing for white residents.

The application was made Monday with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and claims the landlord, Timbercreek, is discriminatory in its plan for the property and that the City of Ottawa, which is also named as a respondent, has been complicit in that discrimination. The 42-page application claims Timbercreek’s plan for the redevelopment violates the Ontario Human Rights Code as well as international human rights law.

“The mass, forced displacement of an entire community of immigrants, people of colour, families, and people receiving public assistance amounts to systemic discrimination,” the application says.

“The Applicants ask the Tribunal to determine whether a landlord has the right to displace a large group of residents of a low-income, family-oriented, racialized and immigrant community in order to create a predominantly affluent, adult-oriented, white and non-immigrant community in its stead.”

Timbercreek bought the Heron Gate rental development near the convergence of Heron and Walkley roads in 2012, and spent $45 million on upgrading the property. It demolished 86 of the townhouses in 2016 and in January began tearing down another 150 units, about a third of which were already empty.

The 14 claimants were all forced out of their homes last fall in the Phase 2 evictions.

The human rights application alleges Timbercreek plans to replace the townhouses with housing geared to higher incomes to lure affluent residents from nearby Alta Vista.

“Timbercreek’s plan is thus to gentrify the Heron Gate neighbourhood on a mass scale and at an accelerated pace” it says, a process the claimants call “hyper-gentrification.”

Most of Heron Gate was built in the 1960s (Confusingly, in the city neighbourhood known as Herongate) and by the 1990s had begun to attract tenants from the influx of Somali immigrants displaced by civil war. The application describes the growth of the Herongate neighbourhood as affordable and “welcoming and familiar to new Canadians.” More than 90 per cent of the evicted Heron Gate residents were people of colour.

The applicants allege the evictions caused harm, mental illness and humiliation to those displaced.

“Aside from the purely economic costs, mass dislocation erodes the ethnic enclave and undermines its ability to form the social and cultural institutions and businesses that define it,” it says.

The claim accuses Timbercreek of deliberately neglecting the property and the city for failing to take corrective action.

It seeks $50,000 in damage for each of the claimants “for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect” and that Timbercreek build new rental units that it offer to the displaced tenants at the same cost. It also asks that the city take measures to “prevent the destruction of ethnic enclaves” and that it ensures proper maintenance for “communities inhabited primarily by people of colour, people receiving public assistance and/or immigrants.”

Timbercreek did not immediately respond to requests for a comment on the application. The city said it would not say anything about the case.

“The City does not comment on matters of ongoing litigation,” Deputy City Solicitor David White said in an email.

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