By Andre Bermon –
In March 2022, the City of Toronto placed a bid to acquire a vacant lot and a century home near the corner of Sherbourne and Dundas Streets. The properties known collectively as 214–230 Sherbourne were to be made into a housing project as part of a plan to revitalize the neighbourhood.
However, the KingSett Capital real estate investment firm outbid the city and purchased the property for $52 million.
A year and a half later, the new owner submitted a 47-storey condo proposal for the site. Meanwhile, Ward 13 Councillor Chris Moise said his office has been in talks with the developer to acquire the properties for the city.
What does this mean for the Dundas/Sherbourne community, and how much does the developer stand to benefit?
Century home and adjacent lot comprising the 214-230 Sherbourne properties. Photo: Andre Bermon
Housing the impoverished
Long-standing anti-poverty activist Gaetan Heroux, a leader of the grassroots group 230 Fightback, wants to overturn KingSett’s condo proposal. For Heroux, the struggle to convert the land into much-needed affordable housing is both moral and symbolic.
In 1985 a homeless woman, Drina Joubert, froze to death near the lot. Her death and others that followed outraged social advocates. In response, the municipality purchased rowhouses lining Sherbourne between Queen and Gerrard Streets and converted them into one-bedroom apartments. This was a breakthrough for single homeless adults.
According to Heroux, the 214–230 properties had functioned as rooming houses as far back as 1911. Around 2008, most of the buildings were shut down and eventually demolished. Only the century home at 230 Sherbourne survived because of its designated heritage status, although it has since been abandoned.
Revitalizing the Dundas/Sherbourne area
After the properties fell into disuse, advocates called for the city to purchase or expropriate the land. The decade-long campaign began to make an impression on City Hall beginning in 2019.
Fresh from her 2018 re-election campaign to oversee the new Ward 13, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam worked with city staff to implement a new policy known as the Downtown East Action Plan. Calls were made to address long-term needs for city services in the Moss Park and Dundas/Sherbourne communities and to revitalize the aging Dan Harrison Complex, a Toronto Community Housing building at 251 Sherbourne.
Since a 1991 report, city officials have been aware of deteriorating social cohesion among Dan Harrison residents as well as the building’s failing infrastructure. When City Council endorsed a report called “Activating a Revitalization Plan for the Dundas Sherbourne Neighbourhood” in December 2019, acquiring 214–230 Sherbourne became integral.
According to the policy, if the city could purchase the site, it would “unlock new housing options and revitalization solutions to address the physical, social and economic needs facing Dan Harrison and the wider community.”
However, the city’s attempt to acquire the properties in April 2022 failed.
Enter KingSett Capital
Prior to KingSett’s acquisition of 214–230 Sherbourne, associates of the company made the news. A seniors’ building at 877 Yonge Street that KingSett had received from a non-profit operator for $2 in May 2019 was sold to the city for nearly $100 million, with funds coming from the federal government’s Rapid Housing Initiative. According to the Toronto Sun, the city had paid nearly four times the appraised 2016 value.
KingSett’s acquisition of 214–230 Sherbourne was seen by social advocates as another financial sleight of hand. It was public knowledge that the city had an interest in the property, which – like 877 Yonge – could be sold for considerable profit.
A few months after purchasing the site, KingSett submitted a proposal to City Planning to build a 47-storey condominium with 619 units. The city hosted a community consultation last February, but a decision report has not yet reached Community Council.
A change of heart?
In the July 10 Toronto Star, a KingSett spokesperson said the company is “considering a range of options for the property,” including re-selling it. No further details were released.
Around this time, the bridge learned that Councillor Moise’s office had spoke with the investment firm about acquiring the properties. At a Town Hall meeting on October 4, Councillor Moise made comments that 214–230 would be used to support a revitalization project in the Dundas/Sherbourne area – similar to what Council had approved years earlier.
As negotiations regarding acquisition or disposition of City properties are confidential, how much KingSett stands to benefit is unknown. But if the company is considering reselling the lands, as with 877 Yonge, it could be lucrative.
The city’s vision may become clearer at the Economic and Development Committee meeting November 28, which is expected to approve the next phase of the Downtown East Action Plan.