Vampire Rules In Toronto Condos - Candidates Have To Be Asked In

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Leaving the Vampire Rules Behind
Will Condo Owners Flex their electoral muscle this October?

Edited Version Of This Story To Appear In Torontoist October 25


By Stephen Weir

When it comes to talking politics in most condo buildings, Vampire rules are in effect … no politician can cross the threshold unless invited in and best that they come after dark. Hundreds of thousands of voters in the GTA keep their crypts in condominiums – is this the October that a stake is driven through the heart of the condo group apathy towards all things political, and this block of voters takes its rightful place in the sunlight?
Some high profile city candidates including both mayoral and city council seat seekers, wonder and worry whether 2010 is the year that condo owners exercise their franchise. A fledging condo association has flagged civic issues that condo owners should take an interest in, and a veteran NDP MPP has once again introduced a private member’s bill that, in effect, will create a charter of rights for people who own condos.
“ The voice of the condominium is beginning to be heard (this campaign),” says councillor Adam Vaughan who is seeking reelection in the multi-dwelling riding of Trinity Spadina. Vaughan, the defacto voice of the condo owner at City Hall, says that owners are now realizing that politics, be it local, provincial or federal has a bearing on their downtown lifestyle.
“The kick start (for condo owners to take an interest in civic politics) is based on time. The longer you are there, the more you are aware,” he continued. “And, at the same time, the older the building is the stronger the condominium corporation (the building’s ratepayers association).
“In the first few years there are the growing pains of the building that the corporation deals with. As the building stabilizes, they start to look outside the building and begin to deal with other issues. For example, in my area, it is how close are the nightclubs? What can be done (at City Hall) about the noise?”
Zip Car parking. One-way streets. Bike lanes for car-free condo owners. Even the noise of late night garbage collections in the city core, are issues that candidates are being asked now by the condo-ites.
Adam Vaughan has been working the condos this fall. He lives in a house but he knows the issues. He has been speaking about high-density living issues long enough that condo associations are inviting him into buildings to knock on doors and speak to voters.
“It is significant (getting permission to get into a condo building during election time) especially when you are new candidate. Over the past four years I have attended many of the condo corporation meetings, so I am known, which makes it easier to interact with condo owners.”
Permission for access to buildings is a difficult task for anyone running for government. The halls of a condo are private property, private security often controls access to buildings, and, jaded suite owners are more likely to ask their corporation to keep canvassing candidates out rather than ask them in.
The hallways are considered private property, there is hired security at the front door, and, while some condo corporations encourage canvassing a lot don’t. Most condos don’t allow signs in the windows or flyers at the doorstep. It is like that vampire rule; you have to get invited in before you can step over the threshold.
“ Getting into rental buildings is easy. As a candidate you have rights and you can walk the halls and knock on doors,” said Rosario Marchese, the MPP for Trinity Spadina. He is working with city politicians, condo corporation presidents, unit owners, and a fledgling association of Ontario Condo Corporations. and fellow NDP MPPs to pass a private members bill that will modernize provincial laws governing condominium ownership.
“ There are currently no politicians in the House that I know of who have been elected while living in a condo,” said Marchese. “My sense is that most of them (sitting members at Queen’s Park) are homeowners. I’d wager a bet and say 99% of them are homeowners. The same holds true at City Hall … how many live in condos? There is (retiring) Kyle Rae and not many after that.”
“We have some big issues. There are over a million condo owners who can cast a ballot (in provincial civic elections). That is a powerful block of power … if they decide to actually vote.”
“It is my belief that we are seeing a community arising out of condominium living. I believe it is emerging, where they are beginning to exert themselves and creating an identity,” explained Marchese. “They didn’t have one before. They are beginning to create one. So whatever issues are happening, let us say, in the Queen’s Quay district, people are beginning to talk to each other. People are beginning to respond to things because this affects my condominium community, and me, which is what my Condo Association Bill is all about. This community has not been able to influence governments in the past, I believe that they will begin to do so.”
I do believe that it (the political might of the condominium) is going to get stronger and governments are going to have to listen to them. I suspect that as the identity grows and as the problems grow, people are going to ask governments what they are going to do for condominium owners.”
Two of the three major mayoral candidates live in houses. George Smitherman lives in a condo in central Toronto and Joe Patalone has part ownership in a Bathurst and Bloor area condominium.
“ I am addressing the condo owners in this campaign,” said Patalone. “The growth of this kind of housing – efficient urban housing – is very important to the health of the city. By-laws, zoning and an understanding of the condo lifestyle have to keep pace with this (condo boom).”
“Civic engagement (with condo owners) is a serious issue and here in Toronto there is a real problem,” said the mayoral candidate. He feels that communication between the city and the condo, or the lack there of, keeps tower dwellers out of the political milieu.
Privacy concerns at times trump city efforts to keep condo owners informed. Patalone points out that with owners of low-rise housing (detached, semi’s, quads etc) receive notices of all proposed rezoning matters in their neighbourhood. “In the towers, the only name we have is the condo corporation board, not the individual owners. The condo board know what is happening but the individual owners may not.”
There are over 2,000 condo buildings in Toronto; some have over 500 individual owners. Each condo corporation may not know who owns the suites in their buildings. Towers in the downtown core have significant numbers of units rented out by absentee owners, some don’t even live in the country.
“Historically, condo owners in my riding don’t vote. Simple as that” said veteran St. Paul’s West councillor Joe Mihevc. “ They have not engaged themselves politically to the same extent as house dwellers. I believe it is a lifestyle thing.”
“One thing is important, people choose a condo lifestyle to make living in Toronto easy. They focus very much on their personal life, whether it is extra curricular activity, or maybe their profession. They have very much a more simplified life,” says Linda Pinizzotto.
“It is amazing. They basically want to take that whole side of their lifestyle and put it in the hands of the property management and of course the board of directors who oversee the corporation. If you have a good board of directors the building will work extremely well, but …”
She is the founder and the Political Action Chair for the new Condo Owners Association Ontario (COA) and the owner of several condos in downtown Toronto. COA was launched in April of last year; it is an association that draws its membership from individual condominium corporations in the province. By mid-summer there were about a dozen buildings involved.
Pinizzotto’s association wants to create a cohesive united voice on behalf of the condo corporations and to represent them to all levels of government. Warranty issues, the impact of HST on condo fees, the Condo Act and city standards for buildings yet to be built, are all part of their mandate. COA wants to get condo owners involved in the political process.
Why are there no sitting members (Queens Park) and few City Hallers who have been elected while living in a condo? “It is a matter of timing. The new wave of condo owners could move towards that direction. You see the condominium didn’t really take off until 1999 and most of the people that are in politics are beyond the age of the ’99 condo lift,” she continued.
“The age of most condo owners tends to be between 25 and 35 (younger than most elected officials). That is a very strong age limit. Some people stay in condos (past 35) depending on what their desires are. But a lot start to have children and then move out to a single-family house.” Trish Mason owns a co-op suite in the Spadina Village District. She has over the years sat on the building’s board and has taken an active interest in politics. Mason is no longer on the board and her interest in civic politics has waned. She says that it is a lifestyle thing for many people in her building, they have simply opted out.
“Not sure if I am going to vote. I have made my place a refuge away from the city,” she said. “I happen to be at the top at the back of an old building. It is an illusion, I know, but I feel so lucky, that I feel away from it all. I don’t mind buzzing in a politician, but, on the other hand I don’t want one sitting on my couch for half an hour!”
For Mason, her building has issues with the city that the high-end Forest Hill homes in her riding don’t face. “It is all about garbage. Our building was built before recycling and so we have to use big bins that are easily accessible from the street. Sometimes they fill up quickly, and the garbage ends up out in the open. Strangers go through our recycle bins, I don’t mind homeless people harvesting liquor bottles, but they do it loudly at night on what is supposed to be private property – who is going to police our blue bins?” “I do vote when there's a candidate that I want to vote for ... otherwise I don't bother,” said Harbourfront District condo owner Laurie Sakamoto “If the voting station is in an inconvenient location I don't vote. Last election I didn’t vote because they told me to leave Yas (her small dog) outside, which I refused to do since someone would probably have stolen her.”
“I just don't want the airport to get any bigger. I love the fact that I can walk there and that it's small with short wait times,” she continued. “The only thing that really bothers me about Queens Quay is if they decide to close it for events and charity walks I can’t use my car. I wish the new mayor would stop closing automobile lanes for bike lanes. He should also make cyclists abide by the same rules as motorists ... no drinking and riding, no going through red lights, no cutting off motorists. We all have to get along.”

Cutlines:
Top Two: One day before the election only one election sign could be seen in the windows of downtown condos. This highly visible condo on Parliament Street (Distillery District) sports a George Smitherman sign.
Second from Bottom: Condo as Refuge
Bottom: Joe Patalone finds it easier campaigning outdoors than inside Toronto's downtown condo towers. Photo taken by sweir at Word On The Street book festival (Queen's Park)

Comments

condo manila said…
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Deirdre G
Nice condo, i really love it.
Toronto Condo said…
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Toronto Condo
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