Our friends at the Winchester Park Residents’ Association sent out their August 2016 Newsletter a few weeks ago, and here it is so you can keep up with issues across Parliament Street.
It has been a long and challenging year for Winchester Park residents and for the Board of Directors of the association. Much has happened; so much that there’s been little time to report on the happenings. Just over a year ago we revived the association and established a board of directors.
We have been fortunate to have Hugh Garner and Fieldstone Co-ops partner with us. We now have more than 800 residents of the area in the WPRA, including business owners. We would like to see all co-ops in the area join, as well as the condominiums. The more members of the association, the more effective we can be when speaking with officials from City Hall, 51 Division, Toronto Community Housing Corporation, and others regarding issues in our community.
We have held two General Meetings. The first was in January 2016 at which we formally elected our directors. We reported on the business for 2015 and provided an accounting for the monies in the bank account. The second General Meeting was held in June; at that meeting, we updated those in attendance on the TCHC Rooming house concerns/status and explained the Bleecker Street illegal hotel concerns. Bruce Rivers, Executive Director, Covenant House was our guest speaker. Bruce spoke with us about transitional home that Covenant House is opening in our neighbourhood.
We are planning to have our next Annual General Meeting in late October or very early November. At this meeting, we will deliver annual reports and have elections for the Board of Directors. There will be vacancies to be filled on the board so please consider putting your name forward or nominating someone who would be willing to serve. We need capable energetic people who are committed to the neighbourhood to work as directors.
TCHC Rooming House Properties
Last year we asked residents to help bring attention to troubles in the TCHC area rooming houses by writing impact statements. We collected over twenty-five. These statements were very powerful and were critical in getting the attention of the TCHC, our City Councillor, and the Mayor. As a result we began meetings with Pam McConnell, senior staff of 51 Division, senior staff from TCHC, and staff from the Mayor’s Office. At these meetings, we clarified and illustrated the impact these troubled rooming houses were having on the school, the neighbourhood and, most importantly, the tenants who live in them. The results are slow, but impressive. TCHC has heard us and has taken action. We now have monthly teleconference meetings with senior staff from TCHC in which we discuss continuing issues and problems affecting TCHC rooming houses in the Winchester Park area.
There are many TCHC rooming houses located within the WPRA catchment. The ones that have recently been most problematic are 13, 15, 17 and 19 Winchester Street and 41 Rose Avenue. TCHC Security and 51 Division have made significant improvements at these addresses. There have been five evictions, and there are more pending.
The anti-social and illegal activities that used to take place on Winchester Street and Rose Avenue appear to have migrated to the TCHC rooming houses on Parliament Street and to Wellesley Street East at the top end of Ontario Street. TCHC and 51 Division are now well aware of this and they have committed to increasing patrols in and around these specific areas – in addition to ensuring that the problem activities do not return to Winchester Street and Rose Avenue.
While public intoxication still occurs at the 502, 504, 506, and 508 Parliament Street rooming houses, there has been an improvement over last summer and we have not had the parade of prostitutes that we had in the summer of 2015.
Recently a decision was reached by TCHC and the City to lease the Winchester Street Rooming House Properties to a single not-for-profit organization. Margaret’s House was selected. The WPRA is supportive of this choice, but only after having had very positive discussions with the executive director and a board member of Margaret’s House. Margaret’s House provides supportive supervised housing for women with mental health problems who are in need of long-term housing. We have visited one of the Margaret’s House locations and are very comfortable that this organization will provide the neighbourhood with very stable housing on Winchester Street. There will be no shelter housing, twenty-four hour supervision, and impressive program support for the residents. The housing will not be short term. For some of the women this will be transitional housing of up to two years, but for others it will be long term supportive supervised living accommodation.
Current TCHC rooming house tenants are being relocated to nearby self-contained apartments. Given the terrible interior conditions of the rooming houses out of which tenants are being moved, we hope the new accommodations will be well received. It is projected that the Winchester properties will be completely vacated by January 2017, at which time Margaret’s House is hoping to commence renovation and restoration of the properties.
This past January the Mayor’s Task Force Report on TCHC was released. It seems the City has not quite digested all of the recommendations or decided what parts to implement. We do not know how the TCHC rooming house portfolio will be addressed. The WPRA has been clear that we do not want to see all of our area TCHC rooming houses simply leased to not-for-profit organizations, which would lead to substituting one density population for another, which is in direct contradiction of the City’s Diversity Policy. The WPRA has urged that conversion to co-operative housing which would be supportive, providing mixed, subsidized and social housing be considered. We will continue to advocate for a responsible solution to the TCHC rooming house problem, which would provide affordable social housing while respecting the neighbourhood. This is not a short-term process.
11 1/2 Aberdeen, which had been a TCHC rooming house and has been vacant due to fire damage, is in process of being renovated and restored. We have been told by TCHC this past week that this property is being repurposed and will be converted to a 4 bedroom single family home.
On the evening of August 15, TCHC’s Central Security Unit hosted a tenant barbecue at the Winchester St Properties followed by a Safety Audit of our area TCHC rooming houses, in which some tenants and other members of the community including WPRA participated. The findings will apparently be put into a report for senior TCHC staff we hope that we will be able to see that report. Many health and safety issues were identified by each of the auditing teams who were led by CSU officers. While most of the audit work was done on the exterior of the rooming house properties one team was taken inside several of the rooming houses. It should come as no surprise that the conditions as well as the health and safety concerns identified were found to be deplorable and shocking due to continuing vandalism and lack of maintenance on the properties.
As previously reported, the property leased to Covenant House will be a transitional home. The occupants will be attending school or training programs, with the goal of graduating and moving on to independent living. Most will live there for twelve to twenty-four months. There will be a 24/7 live-in supervision and continuing program support from Covenant House. Occupancy is expected to begin in September. The restoration and construction work has not been without difficulty; there have been delays, the community mural was painted over, and the old lilac trees and shrubs were removed from the front yard. The installation of lights on the front of the property directly affected the homes across the street. Covenant House has offered solutions to these problems and is working to restore the exterior appearance with new plantings. Covenant House has offered to support a repainting of the mural on the lane side of the building
Bleecker Street has been troubled over the past year by what is being euphemistically called “Ghost Hotels.” Two individuals have purchased five Victorian Houses and rented them through online sites to bachelor parties and other group events. The problem is that the owners are absentee landlords and have essentially rented them to large groups of people causing noise and disruption to the neighbours. WPRA spoke with and wrote AirBnB and they took steps to delist the properties from their website. The owners of the houses found a way to relist the properties, which have again been delisted from the AirBnB website. That said they can be listed on other sites and have continued to be a headache for neighbours in the neighbouring co-ops with noise, traffic, and garbage.
The problem of absentee owner short -term rentals is not unique to Bleecker Street as we have seen in the news. The Toronto Star published an article on August 4 quoting neighbours. Sadly however one of the owners of the problem houses was also interviewed and naturally gave a perspective that is entirely different from the reality of the neighbouring homeowners and co-op residents. The Metro paper is also running an article soon and we look forward to seeing how they position the problem.
The City is very slowly working on how best to develop by-laws that speak to current situations related to sharing economy. We are going to work on ways to bring greater attention to the issue of these Ghost Hotels affecting our neighbourhood and others.
NEXT GENERAL MEETING
Our Next general meeting will be our Annual Meeting and likely be the end of October or early November, before winter sets in and the nights become too dark to venture out. Please continue to provide your support for the work we do on behalf of the community by attending our meetings and participating in the discussion. And remember we need you to consider running for election to the board. We have a busy board usually once and sometimes twice monthly. From time to time other meetings may be involved. We need people who are committed to our community. Please consider putting your name forward or that of someone you think would provide leadership through their participation in the WPRA as a member of the Board of Directors.