A Toronto arts non-profit founded in 1986 to address a growing affordability crisis pricing artists out of the city is being placed in receivership, creating fear among the tenants and artist owners it aimed to help.
Artscape, which manages more than a dozen buildings in the city that include both homes for artists to own or rent and studio spaces for them to work, sent an email to artists in its spaces Monday sharing the news that attempts to resolve increasing financial challenges were not successful.
The letter, signed by the non-profit developer's chief operating officer Kelly Rintoul, called the outcome "devastating" but said the organization would be working to support a transition to enable creators to continue to thrive.
Tahirih Vejdani, an actor and singer, who owns a space in an Artscape building at Dundas and Jarvis streets, where she lives and works, says the news has sent fear through those living in the buildings as to what it means for them.
"A lot of fears and concerns, because we don't know what that looks like," she told CBC Toronto. "And we don't know what impact that's going to have on the people who are involved with this organization."
News of the receivership has sent artist tenants and owners like Vejdani looking for answers and assurance, which she says are so far are in short supply.
Tahirih Vejdani, an actor and singer, lives in an Artscape building. She says she and fellow homeowners are worried about what receivership means for their homes. (Submitted by Tahirih Vejdani)
The organization has not yet been able to provide much clarity to tenants or homeowners about how they will be impacted, she said. Nor was it available to answer questions from CBC Toronto Tuesday, instead pointing to a statement on its website.
"While the receivership process will be disruptive to the operation of Artscape facilities, we are working hard with the city in an effort to have facilities remain operational," it said.
"Despite these financial challenges, our commitment to meeting the needs of artists and arts organizations that have relied upon Artscape for space, programming and other services remains strong and, through the receivership process, we will work with partners towards a model with strong oversight and financial stability that remains committed to this mission."
The organization did not answer if owners or those with leases are in danger of losing their homes, why the city's offer of a loan wasn't sufficient or how much debt it is facing.
Vejdani said she doesn't want to think about where she will end up if she loses her home, noting rents and home sales in the city have skyrocketed since she applied to Artscape eight years ago.
"It gave a sense of security… being able to afford a place in the heart of Toronto and not feel the risk that I'd have to leave because of rising rents or anything like that," she said.
Financial challenges building through pandemic
Artscape says it commenced a financial restructuring plan several months ago, after a challenging pandemic period for the organization. It attempted to sell its Launchpad property on Queen's Quay East to repay debts, but was not able to sell the property, its statement said.
The organization sought an extension to its existing line of credit from its primary lender, TD Canada Trust, supported by a loan guarantee by the city in July. But it says the terms between the city and the bank couldn't be met, leaving the organization insolvent.
TD did not respond to CBC Toronto's request for comment
Coun. Shelley Carroll, chair of the city's economic and community development committee, who brought forward the request for the city to guarantee the loan in July, told CBC the primary lender wanted to move in too fast for Artscape.
Coun. Shelley Carroll says the city is doing all it can to look for ways to help those living in the units and suggested tenants and homeowners shouldn't make any sudden life changes. (Greg Bruce/CBC)
"Unfortunately, their corporate partner was not willing to wait the amount of time that it would take for them to try and liquidate and be able to cover all their debts, they called it in, sort of unceremoniously in with a very short deadline," she said.
Caroll said the city is doing all it can to look for ways to help those living in the units and suggested tenants and homeowners shouldn't make any sudden life changes.
"There's always hope in a receivership process," she said, adding meetings are already underway and staff are looking at what's possible.
"We're trying to deal with all sorts of scenarios, but eviction is not one we would like to contemplate," she said.
She says the city needs more details but is looking at if managing any of the properties if possible as a backstop until there is another property manager.
Leaving would be 'devastating,' says artist
Some artists told CBC Toronto that until they have firm answers, they won't be able to relax.
Jessa Agilo, an arts worker, has lived at Artscape Triangle Lofts for 13 years. She says the uncertainty is impacting her mental health and she's found it hard to work since receiving the news Monday.
Jessa Agilo lives in an Artscape building. She says the uncertainty about what the receivership means for her is impacting her mental health. (Submitted by Jess Agilo)
"Even back then I couldn't afford rent. I couldn't afford to buy space," she said.
"The rental market, the buyers' market now is even worse than it was 13 years ago," she said. "I may have to leave the city, because looking at what's out there, it's probably not within my capacity financially. And that's personally devastating."