Toronto

Party's over for TCH home invaders, staff say

The city's public housing agency is getting set to launch an all-out offensive against a growing problem: predators who invade the apartments of vulnerable tenants - usually seniors - and eventually move in with them.

'Unit takeovers' on the agenda at upcoming TCH board meeting

Staff-Sgt. David Quigley, of the TCH community safety unit, says home takeovers are a problem he has seen grow over the last five years. (Mike Smee/CBC)

The city's public housing agency is getting set to launch an all out offensive on a growing problem: predators who invade the apartments of vulnerable tenants — usually seniors — and eventually move in with them.

Toronto Community Housing directors and city councillors will hear more about a plan to help tenants recognize and report potential intruders at Thursday's board meeting.

As well, TCH staff want the the province to beef up the Trespass to Property Act to give security staff more powers to evict problem visitors from TCH units.

In the worst cases of what's termed "unit takeovers," the tenant is forced out on to the street, and their apartment is then used full-time by drug dealers or prostitutes.

"We will find the tenant roaming the stairwells and hallways during the overnight hours," Staff-Sgt. David Quigley, of the TCH community safety unit told CBC Toronto.

"I've seen tenants move out and actually take up shelter beds here in the city of Toronto and vacate their apartment."

This TCH highrise, near Jane and Wilson, had three ongoing unit takeovers as of Tuesday, according to Staff-Sgt. David Quigley of the TCH community safety unit. (Mike Smee/CBC)

Quigley said there is no data on exactly how many unit takeovers are in progress at any time. But he said every TCH building in the city has at least one unit takeover under way at any time.

'Problem is growing'

"Yes, the problem is growing. I've certainly seen an increase in the reported activity in the past five years or so," he said.

"In any particular TCH building that I go to in a day, I would not be shocked or surprised if we were to uncover a unit takeover during any given patrol."

Quigley spoke with CBC Toronto outside the TCH building at 2195 Jane St., where, he said, three unit takeovers were currently underway.

He said he and other security staffers had managed to head off a fourth earlier Tuesday.

TCH officials met with city staff on Nov. 16 to talk about the problem of unit takeovers. The city asked TCH to provide some solid data that indicates the seriousness of the problem, while TCH asked the city to delve into the possibility of lobbying for changes to the Trespass Act.

As the law stands, TCH staff can only move in to evict an unwelcome guest if the tenant admits the person is a problem. But Quigley said in some cases, the tenant is too intimidated to report an unwanted guest, or admit that they want the person out.

A strengthened Trespass Act would allow TCH to bar a person from a building even if a tenant has asked the person to stay.

Look out for their neighbours 

But that approach doesn't sit well with 12-year TCH tenant and public housing advocate Susan Gapka, who lives on Mutual Street. 

TCH tenant and pubic housing advocate Susan Gapka says community engagement, not tougher laws, is the key to curbing unit takeovers. (Ed Middleton/CBC)

She said grass roots level security is the answer, along with building more tightly-knit TCH communities, where tenants will look out for their neighbours' well-being.

"If you do it by force, it's not going to work," she said. "We need community policing in our neighbourhoods, not law and order enforcements. I worry about us going down that road."

Pilot project expanding

Quigley said security staff often find out about a problem through other complaints — from neighbours, for instance, who report excessive noise from a unit.

For the past year or so, he said, TCH staffers have been running a pilot project in some of the agency's most-victimized buildings, educating tenants about how to recognize when a vulnerable neighbour maybe the victim of a takeover, and who to call to tackle the problem.

That education campaign is expected to be rolled out at TCH properties city-wide beginning in January.

About the Author

Michael Smee

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Michael Smee has worked in print, radio, TV and online journalism for many years. You can reach him at michael.smee@cbc.ca

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