Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the tenants say they are in "a state of emergency and are at a critical point beyond precarity"
The artist tenants of Artscape Weston Common (AWC), a Toronto-based non-profit urban development organization, will collectively withhold rent due to a loss of income amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group said in a news release on Monday that they are refusing to pay rent for the month of April as part of the global Keep Your Rent movement, which asks tenants to skip their rent payments in solidarity with those who cannot afford to pay rent this month.
Residents of the AWC are all artists who work in the cultural hub and live in the affordable units adjoined to the space, which opened last spring.
In a statement, the group said they have reached out to Artscape but “have received minimal communication from management.”
The tenants say they were told on March 27 that the organization will allow a 50 per cent deferral of April rent. The deferred amount can then be paid in monthly instalments over a six-month period beginning in May.
However, the tenants argue they are in dire circumstances due to event and performance cancellations, gallery and school closures and the loss of contracts and funded opportunities. Some have fallen sick while others have lost other non-arts-related work, the statement says.
“Artscape’s communities’ livelihoods have reached a state of emergency and are at a critical point beyond precarity in this time of crisis,” reads the statement. “Postponed and compounded rent will not aid the situation but could potentially further devastate their lives. The cancellation of rent would support tenants with daily and COVID-19-related necessities during increasingly precarious times, and allow them to continue the community building that supports Artscape’s mandate and place-making.”
AWC tenants will continue to withhold rent as the pandemic persists or until the organization presents a solution. Meanwhile, tenants at Artscape Bayside Lofts and Artscape Wychwood Barns are also in the process of organizing.
“Like our tenants, we’ve also been affected by the crisis,” Artscape CEO Tim Jones tells NOW. “We’ve laid off 54 staff members. We are doing everything we can to provide as much support as we can to them and to tenants. We’re reaching out to all of our lenders, talking to suppliers and organizing advocacy efforts with the federal government.
“We are working to improve the situation for them and the organization,” he adds. “It’s not a question of negotiation. We have deep empathy for the situation artists are in and understand the predicament. If there’s a suggestion that we’re not trying to be helpful, it’s just not the case. Unfortunately, as a nonprofit there are constraints.”
Jones explains the operating models for Artscape properties are designed to keep rents as low as possible, unlike other commercial and residential landlords, so profit margins are not built into rent payments. That means surplus revenues are not being generated and cannot be used to help with the current crisis.
Jones said the organization is hoping for more relief from the government to help staffers and tenants.
“There is hope that there is something on the horizon on the federal level for the arts sector,” he says. “We’ll be reevaluating and as soon as we have more information, our tenants will be the first to know.”
Last week, Premier Doug Ford stated at a press conference, “If you can’t pay rent, and you’re just in an absolute crisis, then you don’t have to pay rent.” He encouraged tenants to discuss payment plans with their landlords and urged those who can afford to pay to do so on April 1.
Mayor John Tory has made similar comments.