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Seniors fight for their homes

Bargain apartments due to be demolished

Toronto Star - March 24, 1999
By Rebecca Bragg

Dorothy Carter doesn't know where she will go if she is forced to move out of the apartment she has rented for the past 35 years.

Like the other tenants, most of them seniors, at two buildings on Tweedsmuir Ave., the 86-year-old retired teacher is terrified she will be left homeless if her building is demolished to make way for luxury condominiums.

Although Carter, who is visually impaired, seldom leaves her ground-floor apartment anymore, she enjoys sitting just outside her door in the summer, listening to the birds and writing poetry.

"Nowhere else could I get a place like this for this price," said Carter, who pays $650 a month for her one-bedroom home in the St. Clair Ave. W.-Bathurst St. area.

Dinni Elder, a 75-year-old widow with emphysema, has rented her two-bedroom suite in the same building for 38 years. She pays $892 a month.

When a sign went up last summer saying the owner, Goldlist Properties Inc., intended to tear down the buildings, "I was so upset I didn't know what to do," Elder said.

Bill Solomon, a 37-year tenant, represents one of the Tweedsmuir buildings on a committee consisting of residents of 17 apartment buildings in the area. Like his neighbours, Solomon is fighting mad.

The 77-year-old man, who has had one leg amputated and uses a wheelchair, recently collected $1,500 from other tenants for a fund to hire Toronto lawyers to fight the loss of their homes.

Acting on a recommendation from the mayor's task force on homelessness, city council passed a bylaw this month restricting landlords from converting rental units into condos. The bylaw intends to protect the city's scant supply of affordable rental housing after rent controls were abolished by the province last summer.

Whether the city is able to enforce the bylaw remains to be seen, said Councillor Joe Mihevc (York-Eglinton), who has taken up the cause of the Tweedsmuir tenants.

The outcome of the tenants' conflict will set a precedent that will affect many of the estimated 1 million tenants in Toronto's 475,000 rental units, Mihevc said.

Hearings before the Ontario Municipal Board, which Mihevc calls "the court of final appeal when it comes to zoning and planning matters," are scheduled for May and September.

"That's where the big fight will take place," he predicted.

If Goldlist is granted approval to demolish the apartment buildings and erect high-rise condominiums, it will pave the way for 16 other applications now before the city from developers who want to do the same thing, Mihevc said.

Richard Kuchynski, Goldlist's director of planning and development, said the Tweedsmuir buildings, erected in 1960, "have reached just about the end of their physical life and to maintain them as they are would require an incredible injection of capital."

Tenants who vacate before August 31 will get the cash equivalent of five months' rent, and up to $1,000 in moving expenses, he said.

Seven or eight long-term tenants have accepted the compensation offer and moved out, some to seniors' homes, he said. Kuchynski agreed there is little or no possibility that Carter, Elder and Solomon will be able to find Toronto apartments like the ones they live in now for their current rents.

Rents even for "pretty mediocre" apartments can run as high as $1,400-$1,500 a month, Kuchynski admitted.

But it's not a landlord's obligation "to provide accommodation for people who can't afford what's available in the marketplace," he said.

"The problem is that (the tenants) have been living in somewhat of a fool's paradise for many years. Economically, the world has somewhat passed them by and that's terribly unfortunate.

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