'Lack of co-ordination' has left hundreds displaced 1 month after Parliament Street fire, councillor says

A Toronto councillor is arguing the city's "lack of co-ordination and communication" has left hundreds of residents displaced in community centres for a month since a six-alarm fire tore through a Parliament Street apartment tower.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam argues city not doing enough to support residents in hunt for temporary housing

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam claims the city's 'lack of co-ordination and communication' has left hundreds of residents displaced by a massive electrical fire at 650 Parliament St. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

A Toronto councillor is arguing the city's "lack of co-ordination and communication" has left hundreds of residents displaced in community centres since a six-alarm fire tore through a Parliament Street apartment tower one month ago.

"We're not getting the results we're looking for from city hall," said Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose ward borders the St. James Town area where the fire happened.

A residential highrise tower at 650 Parliament St. was ravaged by an electrical fire on Aug. 21, forcing around 1,500 residents 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.

Tenants have been told it may take several months before they can return. 

While many have already rented new apartments or are staying with family or friends, 700 others have been stuck in hotels or sleeping on cots at a community centre.

"Every day is a struggle," said Sirisha Amatye, who has been staying in a friend's one-bedroom apartment with her daughter. "I don't have any winter clothes." 

Dozens of Toronto firefighters were called to deal with a fire at the Parliament Street highrise in August. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

On Thursday, Wong-Tam said she was "shocked" to learn that Medallion Corporation, a developer and property management company that runs a nearby building, had reserved 30 rental units in one of its brand-new housing developments for the displaced residents — but so far, only one unit has been occupied. 

"That means there are 29 empty units that are ready for occupancy and no one has contacted them," she told CBC Toronto Thursday.

She was speaking at a demonstration outside a new development owned by Wellesley Parliament Square Property Management, which runs the Parliament Street tower. 

The developer's move came in response to Mayor John Tory's call to property owners to help families find accommodations while they await word on when they may be able to return. 

"To me, it's a lack of co-ordination and communication because they've said no one has actually followed up with them," Wong-Tam said.

The priority should be taking care of the displaced residents.- Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam

The city declined an interview with CBC Toronto, but issued a statement saying Wellesley Parliament Square Property Management is responsible for making temporary housing arrangements.   

"The primary responsibility for ongoing support — including the provision of alternative housing accommodations — rests with the private property owner and its agent, Wellesley Parliament Square Property Management," James Kilgour, director of the city's office of emergency management, said in an email. 

"In the past few weeks, housing offers from Medallion have been listed on the housing portal and successfully matched with residents."

The property manager didn't immediately respond to CBC Toronto's request for comment. 

Don Peat, the mayor's director of communications, wrote in a statement that Tory has been working alongside Coun. Lucy Troisi to "make sure the property owners and management understand and fulfil their responsibilities to residents."

"The most vulnerable of the community members, who don't have family, who don't have anybody stepping up to give them any assistance, they're the ones who are the most difficult to house," Wong-Tam said.

They have been sleeping on cots at a make-shift shelter in the gymnasium at Regent Park Community Centre, forcing recreational programs and classes to be cancelled due to a lack of space.

This is a "ripple effect of displacement," Wong-Tam says. 

"Because of the lack of co-ordination and the lack of effective leadership that the city has shown, we are now seeing the fact that this problem ... could have been addressed a lot sooner," she said. 

"The priority should be taking care of the displaced residents."

With files from Ali Chiasson