Facing eviction, Heron Gate tenants have nowhere to go

Tenants in Heron Gate say they don't know where they will go after getting eviction notices from their units.

Hundreds of tenants have until Sept. 30 to find new homes

Falah Rashed has lived in Heron Gate with his family of six for nearly a decade. (Laura Osman/ CBC)

Tenants in Heron Gate say they don't know where they will go after hundreds of people have received eviction notices.

The company said the units have become too expensive to maintain, but tenants say they have struggled for decades to get necessary repairs.

Timbercreek announced plans to demolish 105 low-rent townhomes — along the east-west extension of Baycrest Drive to Sandalwood Drive — because the maintenance costs have become too onerous.

Residents in the neighbourhood said many of those homes have four to six people living in each one.

It's the second large group of townhomes the developer has opted to demolish since taking ownership of the area five years ago.

"I'm not sure what we're going to do," said Falah Rashed, who lives in one of the units with his family of six.

He moved in shortly after his previous unit was torn down by Timbercreek and a year and a half later, he's facing eviction again. This time he doesn't think he'll be able to stay in the neighbourhood, but he doesn't know if he'll be able to find an affordable alternative.

Other rentals out of reach

Timbercreek resident Falah Rashed said he is struggling to find an affordable place for his family to move to when they are forced to vacate their home in September. 0:32
"The rents are at least $2,000, without water or anything. Most families around the neighbourhood can't afford that," he said. 

Right now, tenants are paying approximately $1,400 per month for their units.

Timbercreek has offered evicted tenants four-months notice and some financial help.

"We've put together a relocation program," said John Loubser, the director of operations for Timbercreek.

"We're providing financial compensation of three months rent, a $1,500 moving allowance."

A "relocation consultant" will also be available to help people find new homes, Loubser said.

The company has learned from the last time it demolished townhomes, he said. This time, the evictions will take place in September instead of the middle of winter, so as not to disrupt the school year for children.  

But all that help won't do much good if people can't find affordable housing to move into, tenants said.
Mohammed-Ali Komaiha said most people in the neighbourhood are immigrants who live on a low income. (Laura Osman/ CBC)

"We are low income. We are immigrants here. We are people who have had a bad start at life and we're trying to fix it up," said Mohammed Ali Komaiha, whose family was told they would have to move out.

Neighbourhood notorious for poor living conditions

Komaiha's family has lived in the neighbourhood for nearly a decade and has struggled to have necessary repairs made to their unit.

In 2009, the neighbourhood logged the highest number of property standards complaints in the city. At the time tenants complained of necessary repairs to townhomes and high rises that weren't getting done.

Over a hundred families have been told they have to move out of Heron Gate as Timbercreek prepares to demolish their homes. 6:05

Timbercreek bought the property in 2013 and tenants said maintenance has improved, but they still struggle to get their units fixed. Several told CBC their basements leak and are covered in mould. Others said relatively simple repairs such as a leaky sink take months.

"We've had an issue with the sinks in our house for five months, since the winter," said Komaiha. "They just leak."

It's taken a long time for Timbercreek to catch up on all the maintenance, said Loubser.

The units have gotten to the point they're now too expensive to restore. Timbercreek said 25 per cent of the townhomes are vacant and no longer viable. Because they're attached to a larger block of homes it makes repairs much more costly.

"We don't see how we could," Loubser said.

Development on the horizon

There are no immediate plans to demolish any more units in the community, but eventually Timbercreek plans to redevelop most of the neighbourhood.

Those plans, which are still in the early stages, will likely preserve the existing high-rise apartments but the long-term future of the remaining townhomes are uncertain.
Loubser said he would not be surprised if the new vision for the community took decades to come to fruition.