Mayor John Tory's executive committee reluctantly approved the closure of a Jane and Finch area housing complex Wednesday, but not before getting an earful from a tenant and former mayor.
The committee unanimously approved a motion to allow Toronto Communty Housing (TCH) to close a crumbling townhouse complex on Firgrove Crescent. In total, 134 units will be shut down in the next 12 to 18 months, with TCH hoping most of the residents will move out this summer.
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Tenants were given eviction notices earlier this year, but several people connected to the area said they're shocked by TCH's move.
Former Toronto mayor John Sewell ripped the city for failing to make sure replacement buildings were ready before residents are displaced.
"This is a major failure of the city's leadership," he told the committee.
Tory, firing back, said the city is spending some $250 million on affordable housing this year, and said Sewell should be demanding that the province match that funding.
"Your voice will carry some weight … We need you there," said Tory.
The city had allotted money to repair the complex, but once work began TCH realized the buildings were too damaged to do the work.
Lottery system dictates what residents get first pick of future homes
Barry Rieder, a community minister in the area, said the idea of fixing the buildings was "honourable but flawed." He also took issue with the way TCH decided which residents would get the first pick of available units elsewhere in the city — a lottery, held last week, that was complete with numbered ping-pong balls.
"I think it's crazy," he said, suggesting TCH should be able to come up with a better way to prioritize the list of those being displaced.
TCH CEO Greg Spearn, facing questions from Tory, defended that practice, saying his organization has to be "absolutely fair and absolutely transparent" during the relocation process, and the lottery helps accomplish that.
Spearn did say, however, that his organization could have done a better job of communicating with schools in the area.
Toronto District School Board Trustee Tiffany Ford says she's worried some 100 students could be leaving local schools. That could be problematic for the schools, which have already set their staffing for next year, as well as the students.
"We don't really know where they're going to be moving," Ford said.
'I don't think they know what they're doing'
Edna Rose, a 75-year-old tenant and school crossing guard, previously told CBC Toronto that she doesn't want to leave her apartment — a well-maintained unit among many boarded up ones.
She was at city hall Wednesday hoping for a reprieve, but said she didn't hear anything that put her at ease.
"I don't think they know what they're doing," she said.
Holding a list of buildings where she could move, Rose said none of the options would work for her.
TCH is vowing to work with her one-on-one, as it will with many of the affected tenants. Spearn said the goal is to keep as many people in the area as possible.
"The last thing we want to do is close a home," he said.
Spearn said he hopes to have a plan by the end of the year to revitalize the area, which could see a mix of social housing and purpose-built apartment rentals in the area.
City council gets the final say on whether or not to close the units at an upcoming meeting.