All tenants are being temporarily moved out of a Toronto Community Housing (TCH) complex in the city's west end after part of a bedroom ceiling collapsed in one unit and seriously injured a woman.
Some tenants of Swansea Mews have already been moved to dormitories at Humber College Lakeshore campus, while others have gone to hotels that will keep them close to school and work. TCH said it is paying for temporary accommodations, food and transportation.
After all the tenants have left, TCH said it will test every unit to determine the extent of the problem with the help of engineers it has hired. The ceiling collapsed in a townhome unit in Block H and landed on the woman early May 27, sending her to hospital. She has since been released. About 420 people live in the complex.
According to TCH, residents will be out of their units for an estimated two weeks while the problem is fixed. Originally, only tenants of Block H had to leave, but now all tenants in all blocks are being moved. Swansea Mews is a low-rise complex on Windermere Avenue near The Queensway.
"We recognize that this is a significant disruption for people," TCH spokesperson Robin Smith told CBC Toronto.
"These are people's lives. They have children. They have pets. Some people have special needs. We are very sensitive to them. We're also sensitive to our responsibility to take the best care possible," he added.
"We'll do the due diligence. We'll try to get people back in as soon as possible. But we're not going to cut corners. We're going to make sure we get all the answers."
Swansea Mews in critical need for repairs in 2015
Smith said every unit needs to be inspected because an engineer's analysis concluded the cause of the ceiling collapse could date back to when the building was constructed.
In 2015, there were indicators that Swansea Mews was in critical need for repairs, he said. As a result, TCH developed a "reset program" in 2016 that called for a "deep retrofit" of three TCH communities, including Swansea Mews. Smith said the program wasn't funded.
However, TCH had scheduled a "deep retrofit" of Swansea Mews in 2023, which means the agency had a plan for the complex before the ceiling collapsed.
In a statement, TCH said engineers who have inspected the unit where the ceiling collapsed recommend testing of ceiling materials in all buildings in the complex. Before the testing takes place, temporary structural supports will be set up in every unit as a preventive measure to prevent another incident.
"The results of the testing will determine the timing of when tenants can return to their homes," TCH said in the statement.
Smith said TCH is committed to ensuring that residents have the best information while their safety is a priority.
'People are going through sheer panic,' tenant says
On Friday, dozens of residents gathered outside the building and expressed frustration at the situation. A few said the building has needed work for some time, that TCH management was aware that repairs were in order and it is the responsibility of TCH to make sure the building is safe.
Ubahagi Abdi, a tenant since 2004, said TCH knew that Swansea Mews was not in good condition for years. Tenants need proper information to give them peace of mind, she said.
"We have to know where we're going, what we are leaving behind, because this is our life. This is where we live. This is where we raise our children. This is our home," Abdi said. "They knew this was coming. What are you waiting for?"
At Humber College, the dormitory doesn't allow pets. Many of the Swansea tenants have pets.
Tammy White, a resident for the past 12 years, said tenants didn't get enough notice before being asked to move out. She added there hasn't been enough information and the "no pets" policy is hard to cope with.
"People are going through sheer panic, terror. I mean, I got kids, I got pets. I was willing to go — that wasn't an issue. But when you say that about my animals, I can't do that," White said.
At Humber College Lakeshore campus, some families reported being split into multiple rooms without stoves or ovens. But TCH said they have full access to cafeteria services, meals are provided for and bagged lunches are available for children who are going to school. It said there are kitchenettes in two-bedroom suites.
In a statement to CBC News, the Toronto District School Board says it is providing support to families, including arranging transportation to schools, making TDSB community support workers available, and providing affected families with groceries.
Currently, TCH is spending $350 million a year on capital repairs, Smith said. Swansea Mews has 154 units, 41 of which were vacant at the time of the ceiling collapse. Twenty-five households have been moved, another 30 are expected to move next week, and plans are in the works for tenants in the remaining 58 units.