About 70 families still living in a public housing complex where a ceiling collapsed are required to leave as quickly as possible because all units in its buildings have been deemed unsafe.
The City of Toronto's chief building official has issued an order to remedy the situation that requires Toronto Community Housing (TCH) to begin vacating all buildings in Swansea Mews, 21 Windermere Ave., near The Queensway. The order follows the collapse of a ceiling on May 27 in a townhouse unit in Block H that seriously injured a woman.
"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 they are used," the order reads.
Structural engineers hired by the agency to determine what led to the collapse have found two more concrete panels, in two separate buildings, that are similar to the one that fell. Tenants in Block H, where the collapse happened, were urged to leave. About 420 people live in the complex.
"This finding means the risk of another concrete panel falling suddenly and without warning is greater than was originally identified," TCH said in an update on Monday.
TCH, a city corporation, said it is working to find suitable temporary accommodation for the families remaining in the complex is trying to secure a range of options, and is continuing to match families with the accommodations that best meet their needs. About 40 families have already left the complex voluntarily. A total of 39 units were vacant at the time of the collapse.
"Our tenants are so incredibly disrupted and this is so unsettling for them," TCH CEO Jag Sharma told reporters on Monday.
"We've heard their feelings first-hand. And we are committed to taking every action and putting every support in place to help them through this."
Sharma said TCH has secured space at Humber College and it has contacted George Brown College, Toronto Metropolitan University and York University to find places tostay for its tenants. It is also making use of hotels. TCH will provide "wraparound" services, he said.
"We're ensuring that we have places for our tenants to go as a result of this significant safety risk," he said.
Sharma said TCH thought it could use electromagnetic scanning to predict if a ceiling was going to fall or not, but that has proven not to be as effective as expected. As a result, TCH cannot predict how many ceilings are at risk and whether they will fall on a tenant or not, he said. That uncertainty has increased the level of risk, he added.
As for the order, it doesn't terminate the tenancy of people who live at Swansea Mews, but TCH said it cannot say how long it will take to fix the ceiling problem.
After the ceiling collapse, engineers determined that the problem dates back to when the building complex was constructed.
Residents say TCH not giving them information
Residents, for their part, said TCH should do a better job of informing residents about the complex, what is being done and when they can return. They said they are upset at being forced to leave and they believe TCH needs a better plan.
Sylvia Abdul, a Swansea Mews resident who is staying in a dorm at Humber College Lakeshore campus, said a notice was posted in the rec room of the complex stating that Swansea Mews is uninhabitable. She has lived at the complex for nearly 12 years.
"Nobody of any of the residents here never personally got a letter. If they didn't know or haven't gone there, they're still in the dark," she said.
Adbul said she did receive a letter at her dorm stating that residents will not be returning to their units.
"We don't know anything. We're in the dark. There's no legal documents. Nobody is giving us any legal information," she said.
Abdul said she had to find accommodation for her pet before she left. She said families can't live in college dorms where there are no kitchens.
"There's a lot of uncertainty. It's chaotic," she said. "We don't want to go anywhere. We need a proper place to live."
'I'm so frustrated about the situation'
Helena Szendrei, who has lived in Swansea Mews for 12 years, said she was living two doors down from where the ceiling collapsed. She said being put in a dorm is like being treated like an animal.
She said TCH has not provided enough information and she is concerned about what is going to happen to her furniture because structural supports are already in place in units to hold up ceilings. One such support has been placed right next to her couch.
"We are not animals. We are human beings. I'm so frustrated about the situation. They're treating us worse than animals," she said.
"It's unbelievable in Canada that we have to face this situation."