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Idle lots, vacant house at 214-230 Sherbourne embody the problem of building affordable housing




On one side of the street, like scarecrows, a clutch of raggedy homeless men and women while away the hours outside All Saints Anglican Church.

On the other side of the street, an empty lot: an expanse of grass with a couple of trees, cordoned off by a chain-link fence.

At the edge of the lot sits an enormous vacant house, once upon a time stately, and, later, not so stately, now fallen into ramshackle disrepair. But for decades, until a few years ago, it had offered 30 rooms for board. For people who live in rooms. If they could scrape together the money, with social assistance.

All of it owned by the same couple, Bhushan and Rekha Taneja, whose large real estate portfolio includes many other rooming houses across Toronto.

And for a decade that lot, at the corner of Dundas and Sherbourne Streets, has sat unused while property values in the city have skyrocketed.

Perhaps not yet enriching enough for the owners in a metropolis bursting its seams. Maybe not yet lucrative enough to sell in one of the few remaining urban corridors where the critically impoverished carve out a slapdash existence.

The idle lots and vacant house at 214-230 Sherbourne were put on the market early this year. Long enough for the Toronto Affordable Housing Office to at least briefly consider buying. And then it was abruptly taken off the market.

“There was no real engagement,” says Sean Gadon, director of the Affordable Housing Office. “It may have also been the result of (the property) being in the media at the time. My understanding is that the owners were only interested in selling to private buyers.”

Think condos, along a downtown swath, astride an arterial road that has undergone extensive gentrification, in parts, but is still a prime locus for rooming houses, mission houses, soup kitchens and decrepit social housing.

Together, the empty lot and the vacant house are worth at least $4 million, according to city tax records, which seems awfully low in developer-eat-developer Toronto.

A shoehorned condo tower seems inappropriate for this location; not many youngish upwardly mobile buyers would likely be interested, living cheek to jowl with the destitute.But the same could be said for other urban niches which have been scooped up and transformed, for better or worse.

These properties have long been eyed by poverty activists, pleading with the city to expropriate the land and vacant residence as Toronto tries to address a low income housing crisis. On Thursday, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty held a rally outside the fence — a fence which had been mended, at its southern edge just yesterday morning, maybe to bolster security against the demonstration.

“We’re fixing up the house, too,” a man who described himself as a superintendent for the empty building told the Star. “We made repairs last year, but the eaves weren’t fixed, the water came through and there was a lot of damage.”

OCAP placards were removed from the fencing and “No Trespassing” signs are dotted around the house.

The owners did not return the Star’s calls yesterday.

At one point, they planned to demolish the house, as the homes which formerly stood on the lots were razed, but were prevented from doing so by a last-minute heritage order, and forced, instead, to make repairs.

“They want to start a bidding war for it,” said rally organizer Yogi Acharya. “And they keep raising the rents for all their other rooming houses. How can you afford to pay $950 for a basement room when you’re getting $733 in social assistance a month?”

The owners, of course, can do what they want.

That’s perfectly legal.

And that, essentially, is a big part of the problem in a city where Toronto City Council staff last year estimated 15,000 to 28,000 homes are unoccupied, a figure arrived at by studying Toronto Hydro data for addresses where no electricity or water had been consumed.

Statistics Canada puts the figure for unoccupied homes in the GTA at 99,000.

But you can’t arm-twist owners into selling.

Well, actually you can, under the provincial Expropriation Act, but only for narrow purposes, public service projects. Like building a subway.

Or social housing revitalization endeavours, such as the George St. Revitalization Project. That undertaking — it incorporates a long-term care home with 378 beds, a 100-bed emergency shelter for men and a 130-bed “transitional living” service for men and women — was green-lit in principal in 2013, but only received funding approval this past February. At the earliest, construction won’t begin until 2020.

Bureaucracy moves slowly, sluggishly.

While people die.

While they live in miserable conditions.

While the cascading consequences of homelessness and marginal shelter contribute to a slew of community ills, including increased crime.

“The best way to address social problems is through social policies,” said Acharya.

“Expropriation is justifiable.”

Gadon counters that the city has done so, with “strategic acquisitions” deemed urgent, such as the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre and Edmond Place non-profit housing community, erected on land that had sat unused for seven years after buildings had been destroyed by a fire. Among the most ambitious revitalization projects was the massive West Don Lands, expropriated by the province at the urging of then-Mayor Art Eggleton.

“The broader public interest allows for that,” says Gadon. “The challenge is that they come at a cost.”

The city can only purchase property “candidates” for expropriation at market value, which is ever more expensive. “And that’s more of a political decision,” notes Gadon.

In June, city council instructed staff to develop a strategy “framework” for expropriating and acquiring properties for housing. “We’re looking for a sensible way to approach this,” says Gadon. “How do you determine funding? Where will that money come from? How do you deal with willing or unwilling sellers?”

That report will be submitted next year.

There is also the option of initiating a vacant-house tax, with the funds reinvested in affordable housing initiatives. Vancouver went in that direction, recently implementing an “Empty Homes Tax” for vacant and under-used residential properties, homes that have been unoccupied for at least six months, albeit with generous exemptions. The one-per-cent tax is expected to generate $30 million in revenue this year alone.

Toronto council is looking at this, too. Gadon says a better, more immediate alternative could rest in making creative use of properties the city already owns: public land, TTC land and neglected Toronto Housing assets.

“We’ve concentrated a fair amount of time on what sites does the city have that are city-owned.”

Eighteen such properties have been identified.

Obviously, privately owned 214-230 Sherbourne Street isn’t among those.

No, the weeds will continue to grow there. Six empty lots. One vacant house.

Until, it seems, the owners decide the time is ripe to make a killing.


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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme




Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year




In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal




MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.


The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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