Campaign spotlight: Heron Gate

Heron Gate is a tightly knit community in Ottawa’s south end that used to have a great deal of affordable housing. Many low to moderate income Ottawans have rented its properties and called it home for decades, however, the community has been the target of corporate deceit and mistreatment in the past decade. Because of this, many Herongate community members have become involved with ACORN.

Ottawa has faced a wave of intense and rapid changes in recent years that have had negative effects for renters and low-income residents. Heron Gate has notably been a target of these changes. It all started when Herongate was sold by Minto, the original company who built and owned Heron Gate, to the property development company Transglobe. Transglobe then sold Heron Gate to the company Timbercreek, who is the current owner of Heron Gate. This was because ACORN members demanded repairs from them and Transglobe did not want to be held accountable for their neglect. It was during these multiple transfers of ownership that the community began to experience neglect. Tenants had fair and attentive services, like regular repairs and lawn work, under Minto’s previous ownership of Herongate. This level of service stopped when Transglobe and Timbercreek bought the properties that make up the community.

Living conditions quickly became poor and unsafe under TransGlobe and Timbercreek’s ownership. Management companies were constantly changed by the new owners to ensure Heron Gate tenants unable to file complaints and request repairs for essential services like heat and water. Homes became infested with cockroaches and other bugs, but tenants weren’t able to do anything about it. The tenants were always the last people to know about changes that would directly affect them.

It was eventually revealed that the community was being purposefully neglected by Timbercreek because they had plans to demolish the original, affordable properties and build expensive luxury apartments in their place. While ACORN members in Herongate have been fighting to protect their neighbourhood for years, the wider public began to take notice when Timbercreek announced their plans to demolish the original buildings. This demolition was especially malicious because Heron Gate homes many large, low-income families, many of whom are newcomers. Tenants have been aptly calling this specific tactic to move them out to make way for expensive housing “demolition by neglect”.

When it first became known that the community members of Herongate were being mistreated, ACORN went door to door in the community to organize and train tenants to advocate for their rights. As time went on and Timbercreek’s mistreatment of Herongate residents worsened, many tenants joined ACORN. As one tenant put it, “ACORN is really the only group that is fighting for the tenants and exposing all of these things that Timbercreek is doing”. ACORN’s platform as a well-known organization that fights for the rights of low to moderate income communities helped bring attention from local and national press to Timbercreek’s mistreatment of Herongate residents. This helped subdue the neglect Timbercreek inflicted in Herongate and delay the demolition of the homes in the neighbourhood. One hundred and eighty households have been evicted from Herongate, the fight is far from over.

Similar situations nationwide, from Toronto to Vancouver, are unfortunately within sight. Community organizing, by groups like ACORN, is essential for community cooperation and mobilization. The public attention ACORN brought to Heron Gate has helped shine a light on the issue of tenant rights at the local and international levels. Leilani Farha, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, has even reported on Heron Gate, and has indicated that Timbercreek has grossly mistreated its tenants. While tenants have since been evicted from Heron Gate, many still continue to be involved in ACORN, fighting for the rights of low to moderate income Ottawans.

Ottawa ACORN members demand landlord licensing, inclusionary zoning, at least twelve million dollars per year (not including federal and provincial grants) set aside to build new affordable housing, all government owned land in a 1 kilometre radius of current and future rapid transit stations to be put aside for affordable housing, one-for-one replacement of affordable rental units of similar size to the ones being demolished (with first right of refusal for tenants previously living in the units to move back into the building at no more than the previous rent plus allowed annual increases), and for the new Ottawa 2019-2022 city council to prioritize transit planning and affordable housing.