by Robyn Gillam
The Two Towers, the second novel in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (along with the film based on it), is the scariest, most unsettling of the series. The two towers overlooking the harbour at the foot of John Street remind us of this tale. Theirs is also story of the search for something precious and powerful, of a titanic struggle between good and evil, but most importantly, the importance of having somewhere to call home.
Back in 1967, the towers were planned as luxury condominiums, with a swimming pool, hairdressing salon and a dog walking park. The units featured incredible views of the harbour and escarpment. However, the disreputable image of the North End doomed the project and the apartments became rental units. Over time, Marina Towers has been home to a large and socially diverse population, including new immigrants with large families and people on social assistance. The buildings have had their share of problems, including cockroaches and bed bugs, but the onsite building managers and superintendents could deal with most issues.
Last September, as reported previously, the property was purchased by The CLV Group. This property management company, associated with a 2018 rent strike in Stony Creek, is focused more on investor return than tenant welfare and stability. Apart from changing the name of the buildings, CLV got rid of onsite building managers and superintendents, renovating their apartments for rental. Other staff have been replaced by lower paid workers, and maintenance of tenanted apartments has all but ceased. Apartments were colder this winter than previously, and CLV was also was able to enforce an above guidelines rent increase obtained by the previous owners.
A legal loophole allows landlords no ceiling on rent increases on vacant apartments, so the incentive is to have as high a turnover of renters as possible. Resources have been concentrated on renovating empty units on an open plan concept with laundry facilities, clearly aimed at a more affluent clientele.
This is bad news for many of the present inhabitants. Some have been here 50 years or live on fixed incomes, others are dependent of food banks or are shut-ins. There are those who have been unable to pay rent, as a result of Covid-related work disruptions. Quite a few tenants have been offered money to move out, but not enough to rehouse them in the current market. As elsewhere, recent immigrants are often targeted by such offers. It also appears that some tenants have actually been threatened with eviction, although the details remain unclear.
An atmosphere of fear and uncertainty pervades the two towers. Pandemic related threats to health and safety are bad enough, but add to that the appearance of a landlord with a reputation for above guidelines rent increases, renoviction, and harassment, and a very dark narrative appears set to unfold. This is not a fantasy; how it ends depends on alliances between the tenants and the neighbourhood and concrete strategies to constructively engage with the property owners and the city.
The author would like to those who have shared their stories privately and at the Acorn Downtown Chapter meeting last month.