280 Wellesley Resident’s Association is the first of it’s kind in St. James Town. A collaborative effort by residents of one of the 19 high rises in St. James Town to ensure a safe and healthy living space for themselves. Jason and Danielle from the association answers some of our questions to help us understand the association and its initiatives.
- Tell us in brief about the 280 association. Your Mission/aim/objective and how you try to achieve them.
280 Association: We are a group of tenants who have come together to demand safe and healthy living spaces in 280 Wellesley Street East. To achieve this, we have been and will continue holding management and owners accountable for the living conditions in the building and surrounding areas. We are also working with community organizations and our local, provincial, and federal representatives to pursue legal and political action.
- What inspired forming the association?
280 Association: On the morning of Wednesday February 6th at 8 AM, the electricity, heat, and water were shutdown in 280 Wellesley. We were told these outages would last a maximum of 24 hours. We were told that water and refreshments would be provided in the lobby.
On Wednesday night, the electricity came back on, but the heat and water did not. On Thursday morning – at the 24 hour mark – the heat and water remained off. No one was told what was happening for the remainder of the day. Thursday at around 5 PM, residents began to gather in the lobby, seeking information and drinking water – there was none. No one had checked on residents with special care requirements or had brought them water, even after being informed that they couldn’t come down the stairs.
After extensive pressure, the management released a pamphlet telling residents that the heat and water were out and could remain that way for up to 48 more hours. The first group of organizers came together to coordinate getting water to the building (thank-you to The Corner for providing two deliveries of water bottles!), get answers about what was happening, and have services restored as soon as possible.
With the help of The Corner, we brought the media and police to the building. We got several thousand water bottles delivered that night. Police also stepped in, stating that services needed to be restored by the next day or the area needed to be declared a disaster zone so additional services would be provided to residents.
The next day, we filled the management office, having a stand-in until management restored services. With that pressure, management restored the services by noon. We then spent the rest of the day assisting residents who had issues – flooding, heat not coming back on, no electricity in certain rooms, etc.
We saw a significant difference in management’s behaviour when there was pressure and oversight. Knowing there were a lot of issues that needed to be addressed beyond the outages, we did a sign-up day to document those issues and ask if we could advocate for residents about them. From there, the Tenant Association was born!
- Can you tell us in brief about the group leadership and hierarchy and how they are selected?
280 Association: Initially, the first set of six organizers came together by working to resolve the outages – and support residents until they were resolved. We had a lobby event where people signed up to allow the organizers to advocate for them and form a Tenants Association. Since that time, the organizing team has expanded to fifteen, with many other residents taking on specific tasks. At our first monthly meeting that all 280 tenants were invited to, we addressed this again and members supported the organizing team continuing their work for the next six months.
We are following the snowflake model of management, so there is no defined hierarchy in the organizing team. We rally around the person who has decided to lead a particular meeting or campaign, providing whatever support is necessary. To that end we have used various tools and social media apps to help us stay in touch and share ideas in a candid manner. There is no compulsion or delegation of work. Everyone takes on what they can, when they can and we all support each other.
- What are some of your achievements and failures of the association according to you?
280 Association: We have numerous achievements as a group. In a span of less than three months, we as a group have been able to:
- Secure monthly meetings with the WPSQ management, Krysten Wong-Tam, and the organisers of the other tenants associations.
- Arrange monthly meetings of the 280 Wellesley Tenants Association.
- Document and file over a hundred repair requests with the WPSQ management.
- Assist residents in resolving individual issues.
- Have management visit every unit and document repair requests.
- Seen a change in the number of repairs being done, the speed of those repairs, and the quality of the repairs.
- Have management start to change their attitude and behaviour towards the tenants.
- Help build a community of tenants in the building who are all working to better our living conditions.
- Launch a legal initiative and secure funding and legal assistance to ensure it is accessible to all residents.
- Organize media coverage to ensure there is light shed on the issues facing 280 residents.
- See our suggestions regarding managing the outages during the Electrical Safety Authority inspections be implemented with 240 Wellesley and 77 Howard.
The only thing we regret is not being able to do more and achieve a quicker turnaround. Navigating through all the bureaucratic hurdles has not only been time consuming, but also frustrating at times. The by-laws are pro-landlord and are creating a dangerous situation for tenants. We will continue pushing for changes though – even if some of them come slowly!
- Post 280 crisis how has the association been involved in bringing and collaborating residents?
280 Association: As stated earlier, we have established monthly tenants meetings to apprise them of the work being done and to gather their inputs on the way forward in a democratic manner. We also check in via a private social media page and a Google group.
This is a association of the tenants, by the tenants, for the tenants. So all decisions are made in consultation with tenants.
- How have the residents being reacting to the association and its efforts?
280 Association: We have received positive feedback from the tenants on our efforts and the impact they are making.
As we have moved ahead, we have seen more and more people interacting with us and wanting to be part of the tenants association. Our meetings are growing and we are getting a lot of input from residents. We also have a lot of tenants offering to help with everything from printing to flyers to translating.
There is still a lot for us to do, but we’re very encouraged by the responses we’ve received and the community that’s been building!
- What are your plans for the near future and how do plan to achieve them?
280 Association: Our current plans are to :
- Have management complete the work they have committed to.
- Improve security and safety in the buildings.
- Move forward with our legal initiative.
- Push for the city to order the ventilation system be cleaned.
- Pressure for provincial change in the laws surrounding the Electrical Safety Authority.
We intend to work with the management, our lawyer, our political representatives, community organizations, and the media to work on these issues.
- Do you see the association playing a bigger role in the neighborhood apart from just 280?
280 Association: As a tenants association, there are neighbourhood issues that our members are invested in and want us to work on. We are working on some of those issues now.
That said, we are one building of nineteen, so we want to ensure we are not speaking for anyone else. That is why we also support the formation of a Neighbourhood Association so all residents of St. James Town can work together on neighbourhood-wide initiatives and issues.
- Some major lessons since starting the association
280 Association: The laws are pro-landlord and change comes slowly. Navigating the bureaucratic systems can be a real challenge and a strain on resources. Thankfully, we have had a lot of support from fellow residents, community groups – including The Corner, Neighbourhood Legal Services, and more! Knowing we have support and help with any action we take on is very comforting.
- Anything else you would like to share with the residents of St. James Town
280 Association: Organizing is worth it! It takes time and effort, but it really does make a difference.