'We're trying to fight this': Some residents displaced by 650 Parliament St. fire will be homeless next month
'People are just frustrated at this point and I think this is kind of like the last straw,' tenant says
Approximately 200 residents staying in hotels after a massive six-alarm fire gutted a highrise apartment this summer who will be homeless at the end of the month say they're "angry" and were expecting more from management.
Wellesley Parliament Square, who manages both the north and south towers at 650 Parliament St., announced last week that it cannot cover the cost of hotel accommodations beyond Nov. 30.
"The owners have done their best to provide assistance to allow time for tenants to find other accommodations," the property manager said in a statement.
In a follow-up letter, Wellesley Parliament Square clarified they will still support those who find comparable unfurnished apartments past the 14-day deadline: offering $5,000 for food, clothing and furniture. Further, those who secure comparable furnished accommodations will also receive help to pay the differences in rent.
In the last three months, building resident Mark Slapinski has been shuffled from bed-to-bed — staying with family, friends and in different hotel rooms, eventually landing at a Holiday Inn.
In an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning, Slapinski described the stress of not knowing where he will sleep at night.
"People are just frustrated at this point and I think this is kind of like the last straw for a lot of people," said Slapinski, who is a social media student at Seneca College.
As time goes along it seems like things are getting worse.- Mark Slapinski, resident
He explained he's unsure about his next move and noted that management's two-week timeframe isn't long enough to find an alternative.
"We're trying to fight this as much as possible because a lot of people, like myself, have nowhere to go," he said.
On Monday, Mayor John Tory called the move "profoundly unacceptable," saying it is the owner's responsibility to look after tenants.
"My first objective will be to make sure those relatively few that are in hotels will be able to stay there," he told reporters Monday at city hall, noting he is in talks with management and insurance providers to find a solution.
Fire displaced 1,500 residents
An electrical fire ravaged a residential highrise in the city's St. James Town area on Aug. 21, forcing around 1,500 residents to vacate 568 units.
The blaze, which started in the basement, sent thick plumes of smoke pouring out of multiple apartments. It caused substantial structural damage to the two towers and knocked out the electrical system.
Wellesley Parliament Square had predicted residents of the north tower, which suffered much less damage than the south, would be able to return home by Thanksgiving. But further inspections in September revealed problems with the 50-year-old building's electrical distribution system.
Property manager Doug Sartell estimated tenants will likely be able to return by early 2019 to allow time for crews to complete the repairs.
All of the ceilings in every corridor had to be removed to release trapped smoke and most of the building's electrical components had to be replaced.
Meanwhile, most residents have already rented new apartments. Others have been staying with family or friends, at hotels, or in a temporary shelter at community centres.
City prepared to take control
Slapinski, who lived in the building for eight years, wants to move back when the apartments have been refurbished because he says the location is convenient and doubts he could find something new for a comparable price due to the city's surging rental market.
"It's sort of bittersweet. In one sense you're staying in a hotel, which usually does bring good memories, but the thing is that we're not here under our choice and it's incredibly hard," he said.
He met with other tenants Monday and staged a protest outside the office of Bleeman Holdings, which owns Wellesley Parliament Square, to bring awareness to their looming eviction.
We're trying to fight this as much as possible because a lot of people, like myself, have nowhere to go.- Mark Slapinski, resident
"As time goes along it seems like things are getting worse," he said, adding that he's not sure where he'll go next.
In the meantime, he says he's relying on the mayor and Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam to put pressure on management to step up.
Tory has vowed that city staff, if required, will complete the repairs and send ownership the bill to ensure residents are looked after in a "humane fashion."
"I indicated to the landlord that whatever means necessary, this is back at the beginning of all this, that if they didn't step up and take their responsibility seriously that I would be looking for a mechanism like that to make sure that whatever we had to do to fill in for their responsibility, the bottom line would be we'd do that," he said Monday.
With files from CBC Radio's Metro Morning