Windsor

As some residents occupy front lawn, city says it has lost touch with River Place owners

Neighbours of River Place Residence have been complaining about people continuing to live in tents on the front lawn. But the city says efforts to resolve the situation have been stalled because it has been unable to reach the building owners — a claim that one owner disputes.

But the building owner tells CBC News that claim is 'not true'

River Place Residence at 245 Detroit St. in Sandwich Town was boarded up by the city on July 21 — but the city says it learned Friday morning that it's been broken into again. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

It's been about two weeks since people living at the River Place Residence in Windsor's Sandwich Town were ordered to leave the building, with the city citing severe safety issues.

Some people were able to find alternate housing, but others moved into tents on the property's front lawn. As of Friday, the city estimates there are between 10 and 15 people still there.

But there's one major hiccup in the city's efforts to resolve the ongoing issues, according to Windsor's chief building official John Revell. He says the city hasn't been able to reach the owners for about a week — a claim one of them disputes.

"We're getting into a bit of a ticklish situation here. We want to try to to wrap up the situation. The city's throwing a lot of resources at this," said Revell. He says those who are still camped out on the front lawn have "declined assistance" from the city and its shelter services.

The result, he says, are frequent complaints from neighbours about seeing garbage on the property and stumbling upon drug paraphernalia.

"As of this morning, we returned to the property and we've discovered that the building has been broken back into. So, again, we tried to contact the owner and they're not responding to us."

Between 10 and 15 people are occupying the front lawn of River Place, according to city officials. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

Instead, the city is boarding up the building again and Revell says the associated costs will be charged to the owners.

"The owners are going to be responsible for staff time and the cost of construction, and that includes police attending the properties. It's not going to be cheap. I'm not sure how much it'll be, but it certainly will be a cost and it'll be added to the owner's tax," said Revell.

CBC News reached out to Yelong Li, one of the owners of River Place. In a statement, Li said Revell's claim that the city cannot get in touch with the owners is "not true."

"I spoke with the bylaw manager on the phone Tuesday and today my colleague was talking with him," he said.

They're a phone call away if people want to reach out to them. We're always glad to help, but we just won't be having a presence on site.- City of Windsor's chief building official John Revell on social services having 'done everything they can' on site at River Place

Despite complaints from neighbours, the city said police cannot remove those occupying the front lawn until the owners serve them with a trespassing notice. Revell says the city's social services department is no longer proactively assisting the former residents of River Place, so it can focus its efforts on other areas of Windsor-Essex.

"They've done everything that they can on site," he said. "But they're certainly available. They're a phone call away if people want to reach out to them. We're always glad to help, but we just won't be having a presence on site." 

This sign has been posted along the sidewalk in front of River Place. In part, it reads that occupants are 'trying to get through this' and are here 'due to circumstances beyond our control.' (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

In July, the city issued an "unsafe building" notice, requiring the owners to address non-functional fire alarm and water systems. Much of the damage was repaired, before being vandalized again the next day.

Later that month, the city condemned the building, requiring all tenants to find somewhere else to live. Among them were about 25 people from the former tent city ravine encampment near Crawford Avenue that were evicted by the city in late 2020.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sanjay Maru is a reporter at CBC Windsor. Email him at sanjay.maru@cbc.ca.

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