Swansea Mews tenants facing uncertain future as order ‘prohibiting occupancy’ issued

Residents of a west Toronto public housing complex that recently saw a ceiling collapse are expected to be officially notified today that it is prohibited to occupy their homes.

On Sunday, June 12, the City of Toronto issued an ‘Order to Remedy Unsafe Building’ to Toronto Community Housing Corporation for its Swansea Mews property at 21 Windermere Ave.

“The professional engineers reports have concluded that the 154 townhouse units at the Swansea Mews complex are in a condition that are unsafe for the purpose that they are used,” the order read.

Among other things, it said a structural engineer must immediately come up with a plan to remedy these conditions so that occupancy can be restored. The timeframe and specific remedial work that is to be done to address this situation and restore occupancy must be submitted to Toronto Building Division by June 17.

Last night, TCHC posted a letter on the door of Swansea Mews’ recreation centre informing tenants that the order would be issued to them on Monday. The city also brought in buses to the complex Sunday evening.

Several distraught tenants, along with those helping support them, held an emergency meeting last night to share their concerns and discuss their next steps.

Ubah Hagi Abdi, who has lived at the complex for 18 years, called this situation “literally a nightmare,” adding the level of stress she and her fellow tenants are experiencing is beyond comprehension.

Abdi said no one living at Swansea Mews wants to be unsafe, however people are also worried about losing their homes.

She wants TCHC to provide answers, “clear direction,” and be accountable.

Abdi said she feels the housing agency is pressuring her and others to move out without following proper protocol.

“We are blindfolded … Tenants feel TCHC is taking advantage of our worried state of mind,” she charged.

“A lot of things are running through our head … This is not a joke. A lot of families’ lives depend on this building that they call home.”

Community legal worker Cole Webber, of Parkdale Legal Clinic, said TCHC must still obtain eviction orders from the Landlord and Tenant Board to remove tenants from their units. He said this process would begin with the landlord issuing N13 eviction notices to tenants for renovation. Webber said TCHC would then have to file applications with the board and a hearing would need to happen before any eviction could be ordered.

Swansea Mews tenants will be learning more about their fate during a follow-up town hall meeting Tuesday evening.

Immediately following the May 27 collapse, those living in Block H, where it happened, were relocated.

The housing agency also offered temporary accommodation at that time to other tenants who felt “unsafe in their unit.”

Tenants were moved to post-secondary school campuses in Toronto, including Humber College – Lakeshore, and hotels.

Just over a week ago, as a “precautionary measure,” the housing provider advised all remaining households in the 154-unit complex, near The Queensway and Windermere Avenue, that they’d have to temporarily relocate.

TCHC spokesperson Robin Smith said they’d also provide displaced residents with transportation, food, and other supports.

Several tenants have refused to move out until an official order is issued.

Toronto Community Housing has maintained that all tenants who relocate will be given the optioning of returning to Swansea Mews.

Last week, Smith said it’s not clear how long tenants will be out of their homes, but said they wouldn’t return until the “full extent of the cause” of the collapse is determined and addressed, including further testing and inspections.

He said this decision was made due to an “emerging public safety risk” that requires the installation of structural support (shoring) and additional testing on ceiling materials throughout the complex.

The structural issues at Swansea Mews are likely part of a larger problem, one that dates back to when it was first constructed back in the 1970s and is “beyond the scope of regular inspections,” Smith said.

Toronto Mayor John Tory met with TCHC CEO Jag Sharma a week ago to discuss the situation.

Speaking to CP24, Tory said plans were already “well in place” to revitalize the aging complex along with funding to make that happen. He said depending on the state of the development this may take the form of either refurbishing or could even mean completely replacing the buildings.

Parkdale-High Park Coun. Gord Perks, whose west-end riding includes the area where Swansea Mews is located, said this emergency situation comes just months before TCHC planned to issue a 2023 Request for Proposals. The revitalization work would have likely required all tenants to relocate.

Perks said the City of Toronto has struggled for more than 25 years to keep its public housing stock in a good state of repair since the province downloaded this file to them. Perks said despite city council pushing hard to get financial help from the provincial and federal governments for social housing, so far only the feds have stepped up to the plate.

The TCHC currently has an approximately $1.6 billion repair backlog. The federal government has previously committed to providing the city with $1.34 billion in funding to help address the issue by 2028.

CP24 has reached out to TCHC for comment and will update this story once we hear back.

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