Parkdale Tenants’ Association (PTA)
The Parkdale Tenants’ Association (PTA) was formed in the Parkdale area of Toronto in late 1971 after local tenants and community activists decided that a collective organization was needed to fight against rent hikes and bad landlords.
In January 1972, PTA helped organize a rent strike at 84 Spencer Avenue. The apartment building seemed to be falling apart, but the landlord ignored repeated requests to repair it. So tenants decided they would refuse to pay their rent until repairs were made. Tragedy struck shortly afterwards, as a fire swept through the building, killing one of the tenants, and forcing the survivors to move out.
Another rent strike was organized that year, against the landlord at Westlodge Towers, who refused to spend money to fix his properties. Worried that disaster could also befall those buildings, the PTA convinced the city to start enforcing its safety bylaws in apartment complexes. It also launched legal action, forcing the landlord to make some repairs. But angry disputes, between PTA-organized tenants and Westlodge’s landlord, continued for decades.
In the 1970s and 1980s, most of the PTA’s work was centred on similar, building-based campaigns. But the PTA also did broader work, educating tenants about their rights, and lobbying politicians to implement better tenant protections. In 1980, activists campaigned to elect Susan Atkinson, the chair of the PTA, to city council; she lost by only 33 votes.
Working closely with like-minded groups across the city, the PTA helped win rent controls (limiting how much a landlord could raise the rent), formed a Toronto-wide tenants’ organization and kept Parkdale’s only waterfront beach open to the public.
All of these campaigns were featured in the PTA’s popular newspaper, The Parkdale Tenant.
Nelson Clarke was one of the leaders of the Parkdale Tenants’ Association. He had been a union organizer back in the 1940s, and the skills he developed in that job helped him become an effective tenant organizer. Nelson also did tenant advocacy work for Parkdale Community Legal Services, which had a close working relationship with the Tenants’ Association.
- Peter Graham