Inspection blitz targets hundreds of neglected homes

Three weeks after a toddler was pulled from a derelict city-managed home that had not been inspected in nearly two years, the city has patched up a loophole that left some 300 homes out of sight.
A three-year-old boy was taken from a home in east Hamilton after neighbours complained to police about an odour coming from the residence. (Michael Gregory/CBC)

Three weeks after a toddler was pulled from a derelict city-managed home that had not been inspected in nearly two years, the city has patched up a loophole that left it and almost 300 other homes out of sight. 

The incident prompted a change in inspections policy by CityHousing Hamilton, the city's affordable housing corporation, and also prompted it to immediately launch an inspection blitz to make sure neglected residences that had fallen through gaps in the inspections program had been examined. That blitz has just been completed.

In the course of that blitz, CityHousing Hamilton's manager of operations said it had found "a few" hoarding homes, that have been tagged for follow up. But he said none were like early June's case that found a three-year-old living in squalor among 19 animals, including two dead cats and a decaying bird. All but three dogs were euthanized because of their condition. 

"This was definitely a gap," said Ramana Ganesaratnam, the operations head of the arms-length agency, CityHousing Hamilton (CHH). 

No follow up policy for "no access" homes

Inspectors neglected to enter a two-storey home near Parkdale Avenue North and Melvin Avenue for nearly two years. It was one of nearly 300 homes that staff hadn't entered for an inspection. Staff won't go in if residents ask them not to, or if there is a dog in the home.

Zoey was among 19 animals, some dead, taken from an east end home last week. The Terrier mix was recently adopted by the Hamilton-Burlington SPCA. (Hamilton-Burlington SPCA)

But there was no policy to follow up with the residents to find a time when they could secure their animal and staffers could complete their inspection. It left a potentially deadly gap to allow problems to grow, including cases of hoarding such as June's case, a home the Children's Aid Society (CAS) described as unfit for humans. 

Residents complained weeks before the child was removed by CAS with flea bites on his body, but no formal investigation was launched at that time. 

In a city report that went to CHH's board of directors on June 19, a new three-step processes has been developed and implemented to process homes that inspectors don't enter so they're not neglected in the future. 

Child in good condition

As for the three-year-old found in the home, CAS has taken custody of the boy from the mother and grandmother who were in the home when he was sized.

"The child continues to do well in our care," said CAS director Dominic Verticchio. 

Right now, the case remains under investigation, said Verticchio, who added the status of where the boy goes next is up to the courts.

Verticchio said CAS did not tag along with CHH inspectors as they blitzed the roughly 300 homes that fell through procedural gap. 

All remaining homes inspected

Ganesaratnam said that all the remaining homes were inspected over a two-day period and the "no serious cases" had been found, although he said "a few" hoarders have been identified and have follow up inspections scheduled. 

CHH planned to inspected 7,035 homes in 2013, a process Ganesaratnam said they manage in three large blitzes. Teams of three can inspect 150 homes a day. To complete the monumental task, each home is notified 24 hours ahead of time, and if no one is home, inspectors can enter with their master key. They do not, however, enter when an animal is present. 

"CityHousing Hamilton staff attempt to enter all units but are sometimes not able to enter units for various reasons," read the report to the city. "These units are tracked as “no access” units. There has been no follow up plan in place to re-enter these units."

A new, three-step policy that creates a follow up appointment, then later an eviction notice if a third appointment can't be made for an inspection. 

Verticchio said the gap exposed by the three-year-old boy's case had "certainly heightened the awareness of being more diligent." 


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