TCHC works to reassure Swansea Mews tenants forced out by unsafe conditions

Toronto Community Housing is reassuring soon-to-be-relocated tenants at Swansea Mews that they’ll be offered a suitable place to stay and will be able to return to their homes once the complex is safe.

Speaking during a technical briefing Monday afternoon, the housing agency’s CEO Jag Sharma said they’ve lined up temporary accommodation at a number of post-secondary institutions and hotels for residents and are in the process of securing long-term options for them.

A timeline for tenants to return to their homes has, however, yet to be provided.

All of this stems from a May 27 incident when a cement ceiling panel in a bedroom fell and seriously injured a woman.

That collapse prompted TCHC to temporarily relocate a number of nearby tenants. Anyone who felt unsafe could also request to move.

Days later, the housing provider learned the issue is more widespread than they thought and announced all of the complex’s tenants must move out so further assessments and repairs can be done.

On June 12, the City of Toronto, based on third-party reports from engineers, took things a step further and issued the TCHC an ‘Order to Remedy Unsafe Building’ prohibiting occupancy of the west-end complex.

Will Johnston, Toronto’s Chief Building Official, said the city had a responsibility to act after faults found in pre-fabricated slabs used to build the complex posed an “immediate danger.”

“The longer people stay, the more the risk goes up,” Johnston said, adding he’s hopeful tenants will comply with this emergency order and “leave on their own.”

He said this emergency order “supercedes” any eviction notice issued by the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board and anyone who chooses not to comply could be taken to court.

Parkdale Legal Clinic, which has been assisting tenants throughout this process, is refuting that assertion.

“The Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) states that tenancies may only be terminated in accordance with the RTA, which is either by agreement, abandonment, or by order to the Landlord and Tenant Board,” Staff Lawyer Samuel Mason wrote in a June 13 letter.

“No provisions of the Building Code Act (which is the basis for the Emergency Order) can override the security of tenure provided by the RTA. We have advised tenants of Swansea Mews of their legal right to remain in their units.”

Mason said the temporary relocation arrangements being offered so far have been “inadequate” and do not offer tenants a “similar quality of living” and do not take into consideration their family composition, including children’s access to schools.

“The tenants are understandably concerned about the conditions of the temporary accommodations given that TCH has not given any assurances of the anticipated return date,” he said, adding tenants should not be “harassed into willingly accepting inadequate and unacceptable alternative accommodations for themselves and their families.”

Sharma said he appreciates that this relocation is “incredibly disruptive and upsetting” for tenants, and is vowing to do everything he can to help them in both in the short- and longer term.

Assuring people that their tenancy at Swansea Mews will not be compromised, he said at this point enough temporary accommodation along with supports have been arranged for the complex’s roughly 420 residents. Suitable three- and four-bedroom units for residents to stay for an extended period of time are also now in the process of being lined up, noted Sharma, who also promised to provide residents with as such information as possible and to answer any questions they may have.

Noah Slater, TCHC’s senior director of capital planning, said what happened at Swansea Mews is a “spontaneous, sudden, brittle failure.”

He said after the ceiling collapsed, shoring was installed, followed by two types of testing: electromagnetic scans and a more destructive hammering method.

Engineers advised that every panel in every unit be tested after 3 of 14 such slabs were found to be defective, said Slater, adding they’re now in the process of looking at their portfolio properties to see if others should also be assessed.

This emergency situation comes just months before TCHC planned to issue a 2023 Request for Proposals for a $30 million revitalization of Swansea Mews.

“This is heartbreaking on all kinds of levels,” Slater said.

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