Residents at 650 Parliament may not be home until 2019, property manager says

Residents from both the north and the south towers of 650 Parliament St., the building ravaged by fire last month, can't return home until early 2019, according to the latest information received by the building's property manager.

Relocation manager says they're offering 'semi-permanent' housing to displaced residents

Doug Sartell, left, property manager with Wellesley Parliament Square, and James Thomas, relocation manager, update the media on repairs happening at 650 Parliament St. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

Residents from both the north and the south towers of 650 Parliament St. will likely not be able to return home until early 2019, according to the latest information received by the building's property manager.

"That's subject to still an awful lot of work that's going on and fact-finding," said Doug Sartell, Wellesley Parliament Square property manager, at a media conference Friday as he described the work taking place at the building's two towers.

The residential highrise  was ravaged by an electrical fire on Aug. 21, forcing around 1,500 residents from 568 units to vacate. 

The blaze, which started in the basement, sent thick plumes of smoke pouring out of multiple apartments, causing substantial structural damage and knocking out the electrical system.

Dozens of Toronto firefighters were called to deal with a blaze at the highrise apartment building on Parliament Street on Aug. 21, 2018. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

Management had predicted residents of the north tower, which suffered much less damage than the south, would be able to return home by Thanksgiving, but Sartell said further inspections revealed problems with the building's electrical distribution system.

"It's a 50-year-old building with 50-year-old equipment," he said. "I think everybody would understand that we wouldn't want them to come back into a situation that had ... a potential to echo what happened in the south tower, so they are proceeding extremely cautiously."

While those repairs continue, crews at the south tower have spent the last month venting smoke from the building, Sartell said. 

All of the ceilings in all of the corridors had to be removed to release trapped smoke, and most of the electrical components in the building are being removed and replaced.

Residents look on as smoke can be seen coming out of 650 Parliament St. ( Robert Krbavac/CBC)

Sartell said he's still dealing with many requests from residents trying to access the building, which he cannot approve.

"It's a job site. It's a construction site, and Ministry of Labour provisions prevail," he said.

Some residents still displaced

Most residents are staying with family or friends, at hotels, or until Friday, at the Regent Park Community Centre, which was set up as a temporary shelter.

The city said Wednesday residents affected by the fire would no longer be allowed at the city-owned building. 

In an email, the Office of Emergency Management said they've now moved approximately 110 residents from the centre over the last two days.

The city said Wednesday that residents affected by the 650 Parliament St. fire who were staying at the Regent Park Community Centre would no longer be allowed to stay at the city-owned building. (City of Toronto)

Many residents ended up at their building's lobby Friday, where property management have set up a response office to offer housing solutions.

"I don't know what they're going to tell us when we get in," said resident Ben Stutzman. "They just said, 'Come down, we'll see if we can help you out.'"

Stutzman said he arrived home from travelling abroad last month to find his apartment blocked off. He's lived out of his suitcase since then, staying on a couch while continuing his studies at the University of Toronto.

"I have tests coming up next week, a paper coming up," he said. "It's a lot."

Ben Stutzman waits outside the 650 Parliament St. response office to find out what accommodation options he has access to. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

Resident Mahdi Ansari said the management office is offering a few options for accommodations, which building ownership will pay for.

"This is like the fifth time I'm registering for the accommodation and I'm still not getting it. There are many other in the same situation," he said, adding that nobody cares about the situation. 

Ansari said he's stayed with a friend in Richmond Hill since the fire.

Mahdi Ansari waits to register for accomodations. He's lived with a friend in Richmond Hill since last month, but said he can't stay there anymore. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

Everyone accommodated, according to management

James Thomas, relocation manager with Wellesley Parliament Square, said their office is listening to every case brought forward to ensure all residents are looked after.

"No one that comes into our response office ever leaves without a place to stay," he said.

If residents need a place, Thomas said they're offering three options for accommodations, which they're currently keeping confidential.

He said they're trying to find "semi-permanent" housing opportunities for residents until they can return, but it's been a struggle because of the city's low vacancy rate and summer events filling up hotels.

"Our objective is to make sure they have the opportunity to stay somewhere ... where they don't have to pick up and leave."

The building management is currently facing two lawsuits filed on behalf of the tenants.