Lawrence Heights resident who faced eviction threat for years is rehoused — for now
Toronto Community Housing agrees to move family left on deserted block slated for demolition
A Toronto woman and her family who had been living on a boarded-up Toronto block, and at one point were worried about whether their water and hydro would be cut off, appear to have a new place to live.
Cynthia Scott, a 68-year-old single mother of four, has lived in her Lawrence Heights townhome for 42 years, but her building will soon be demolished as part of a revitalization project in the area, which will replace 1,208 community housing units and add over 4,000 new private market units, according to the City of Toronto. Construction will finish in 2035.
The wrecking ball will ultimately force her out, but Scott's landlord, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), has been trying to evict her since 2017 for various reasons, legal documents show.
While Scott's neighbours have been permanently rehoused, TCHC had, until this week, only offered a temporary stay at one of its nearby buildings, without a lease. At one point, documents show TCHC offered to move them to a shelter — even with the city's family shelter system at 91 per cent capacity, according to city statistics.
Scott told CBC Toronto earlier this week she was worried she'd soon be homeless.
"If we are on the street, our family is going to be split apart. I don't know how the pandemic is going to affect me," she said.
But on Thursday, after CBC Toronto had asked TCHC a series of questions about Scott's case, the organization said its working on finding solutions to avoid the need to enforce an eviction order.
"Our hope is that these efforts will be successful and that the household can remain permanently housed," TCHC spokesperson Bruce Malloch wrote in an email.
"We will continue to work with Ms. Scott and the household over the summer to get them the help they need and resolve the outstanding issues with the tenancy before the eviction orders expire in the fall."
On Thursday, TCHC sent Scott an amended lease and relocation agreement, which switched her to a month-to-month lease. But it also carries over the over previous eviction orders, including one for excess clutter in her current home.
Scott said she's still worried about what will happen to her in the coming months.
"It would be good news if I could believe it," Scott said.
Her new lease, she said, "clearly states that whatever actions that they can take against me are still pending."
While Scott only got the new agreement in writing this week, a divisional court had ordered TCHC to provide her with a new place to live in December 2020.
The court ruling stipulated that TCHC would relocate Scott in order for the revitalization project to move ahead, without changing her existing tenancy rights, allowing for the eviction orders to remain.
Scott said she doesn't understand why an eviction order for historic clutter issues at her old home will carry over to the new one.
Scott is not alone in facing homelessness as Toronto continues to struggle with an affordable housing crisis. Many who don't have housing, though, are actively avoiding the shelter system and opting to stay in encampments, instead, even as the city tries to clear many of those makeshift shelters from public parks.
Scott said being homeless would be especially hard on her family. Currently, three of Scott's adult children live with her. One of her daughters has bipolar disorder and Scott is especially afraid for her safety if they wound up in a shelter.
"The caregiving that I'm giving my two daughters that are disabled, I would not be able to do that from a shelter," said Scott. "I would lose everything that I own because I have nowhere to put it and I could not afford to store it."
"The violence that's in the shelter and the COVID that's in the shelter … she would not last a minute in there," Scott said.
Since the pandemic began there have been 248 COVID-19 outbreaks at city shelters and congregate settings, according to data from the city. As of Friday, there are no active outbreaks in city shelters.
Pandemic blocked earlier eviction attempt
TCHC has been trying to evict Scott since 2017, first over clutter issues and then, in 2020, over some $41,000 in unpaid rent, documents provided by her lawyer show. The unpaid rent accumulated after Scott lost her rent-geared-to-income status, due to missing paperwork, and was billed market rent, which she said she could not afford.
Scott's new lease charges a subsidized rent, which Scott says is only three dollars more a month than what she previously paid under her old rent-geared-to-income status.
Scott said she has always paid rent every month, even when she could not afford market rate. "I've never not paid a dime of my rent."
The 2017 eviction has been delayed by court actions, while an eviction ban brought in during the COVID-19 pandemic has blocked the process from being carried out in the last year.
In October 2020, when there was no moratorium on pandemic evictions, Scott received a letter from TCHC, which CBC News has reviewed, that informed her it was pursuing the eviction order over clutter and would have enforced it much earlier, if not for Ontario's emergency orders.
"As a result, your household benefitted from the delay caused by COVID-19," the letter read.
According to documents provided by Scott, TCHC offered to help the family relocate to a shelter afterwards.
Scott says she believes TCHC is penalizing her for launching a human rights complaint and fighting the eviction. The complaint is now before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.
"They are hellbent on making me homeless," she said. "'Mental health issues — we don't care. Disabilities — we don't care. Elderly citizen — we don't care. 42-year resident — we don't care.' They're just looking at everything and throwing it aside."
For its part, TCHC says its focus is on relocating the family to temporary housing so construction on the revitalization project can go ahead.
TCHC told CBC Toronto it would not comment in detail on Scott's tenancy without receiving a signed release form with a copy of photo ID, which Scott and her lawyers have chosen not to submit.
"Toronto Community Housing has an obligation to manage the City's social housing resources in a responsible manner. We make every effort to work with tenants, in good faith, to find solutions and provide the supports they need to enable them to remain housed with TCHC. We will continue to do so with Ms. Scott," Malloch wrote in an email earlier this week.
TCHC's policy requires the corporation to relocate tenants displaced by revitalization projects. However, it may choose not to relocate tenants in bad standing, like Scott.
Family filled buckets in case of water cutoff
Scott was originally told water and electricity would be cut at her home at midnight on June 1 — before she had received a relocation offer from TCHC or a way to leave. When her neighbours were moved out over the last few months, Scott said they were provided with boxes and a moving van by TCHC.
Scott said she felt sheer panic watching their neighbours move without knowing what would happen to her family. She said they were also afraid at night as the only ones living on a vacant block.
Earlier this week, Scott said she was considering living in a white cube van she has kept for years, specifically in case she faced homelessness.
One of Scott's lawyers, Nicole Biros-Bolton, says TCHC informed the family on May 31, seven hours before they expected utilities to be cut, that water and hydro would remain on and the family would be temporarily relocated to a nearby TCHC unit. Andre Pal, Scott's son, said the family had been prepared to fill buckets with water.
TCHC will only turn off power and water in units slated for demolition after the unit is vacant, according to Malloch.
"In Lawrence Heights, the power and water were turned off as each unit was vacated during the relocation process," Malloch said.
Scott's unit is now scheduled to have utilities turned off on June 14. The family was only told this after CBC Toronto asked TCHC when utilities would be cut.
Under the new relocation offer, Scott and her family will move to their new home with the help of TCHC on June 14. They have one day to move their belongings and anything they do not take will be considered abandoned.
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with files from John Rieti and Angelina King