by Sahar Ashraf
The crumbling infrastructure and damaged pipes in 3171 Eglinton Ave. E. are triggering severe health issues amongst residents and forcing them to abandon their homes.
The building is owned by Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), Canada’s largest social housing provider, and managed by DMS Property Management. TCHC and DMS both oversee housing across the city and are notorious for routinely ignoring maintenance requests and reports of pest issues.
Over two years ago, one side of 3171 Eglinton Ave. E. disintegrated as four storeys of brick facing fell to the ground. Little to nothing has been done by TCHC since then to repair it. The damage leaves residents at the mercy of the weather, and exposes them to leaks and mold in their homes.
HL, a tenant on the 12th floor of the building where the living conditions are the worst, frequently wakes up in the middle of the night, breathless and choking.
“The smell of the mold gets stronger at night because it’s warmer,” says HL. “Even our floors are moist. We have to sleep in the living room because when it rains, our bedroom and furniture gets wet. That’s what brought in the bed bugs. My husband and I can’t sleep because we wake up every hour.”
After living in her building for just four years , HL has decided to give up her rent-controlled apartment. With a baby on the way, she refuses to subject her child to her hazardous living conditions.
“I’ve never had any health problems,” said HL. “Right after I moved in, I got sick. I kept throwing up for six months. They put a camera inside my stomach. I had some sort of a bacterial infection. That’s when I found out I had mice in my apartment.”
Despite trying to keep her apartment as clean as possible, HL is trying to treat yet another bacterial infection, and worries about whether it will affect her pregnancy.
Before its steady deterioration, social housing used to be a decent option for low-income families and people with disabilities.
“Things have fallen apart over the last 10 to 12 years,” said Naeem, who’s been a resident for over 25 years. “They used to do annual inspections with pesticides. We used to have a pool with lifeguards and classes.”
Both HL and Naeem have called, sent letters and even gone to the head office of TCHC to report their issues, only to be ignored.
“It’s not until everything’s destroyed that they come to do the work,” said Naeem. “We’ve had a broken closet door for six and a half years. They keep saying they don’t have the parts yet. It’s a door. You need a hinge.”
Dawit, another tenant on the 12th floor, was lucky enough to have a giant hole in his ceiling closed up. But to fix it, maintenance staff created another hole in the hallway, which remains gaping wide open in the ceiling.
“It happened to the lady across from my apartment too,” said Dawit. “She kept complaining and they had to move her out.”
Tenants in the neighbouring TCHC building, 3181 Eglinton Ave. E., make similar complaints about mice, cockroaches, broken appliances and holes in the ceiling.
“People living in TCHC have had enough of slum, sub-standard living conditions,” said Hamna Mughal, who organizes with People’s Defence to fight for change in Markham and Eglinton. “They make complaint after complaint that goes ignored by DMS Property Management and TCHC.”
A call to TCHC inquiring about why these issues remain unaddressed showed staff putting the blame on tenants.
“Some tenants don’t prepare their unit for the repairs, like moving their furniture,” said a TCHC employee.
But it’s TCHC’s chronic neglect– not tenants’ carelessness– that will result in over 100 evictions from buildings that are crumbling from disrepair at Jane St. and Firgrove Cres.
Families who are losing their homes have been promised relocation to other TCHC buildings, but it’s unclear how the city will accommodate them and the other 181,000 people on the waitlist for subsidized housing.
If it doesn’t secure funding, TCHC has said that about 1,000 TCHC homes will be boarded up by the end of next year. The government is failing to provide adequate housing for those who need it most and actively displacing working class residents.
Decades of mismanagement, neglect and funding cuts have burdened the City of Toronto with nearly $2 billion in repairs backlog. At this rate, TCHC buildings in almost every provincial riding in Toronto’s east end will be in critical condition by 2021.
In Scarborough, 42 out of 55 TCHC buildings, including 3171 Eglinton Ave. E., are in dangerously poor conditions, while four are ready to be evicted and boarded up. If this trend continues, in just five years, 32 of these buildings will be condemned and declared unliveable.
TCHC tenants have nowhere left to go. For them, subsidized housing was the last option because they could no longer afford to rent even the cheapest apartments in Toronto. The rising cost of housing is forcing the most vulnerable people in the city into homelessness.
Tenants in 3171 Eglinton Ave. E. and 3181 Eglinton Ave. E. are fed up with the conditions they’re forced to live in, and are coming together to figure out how to fight for their homes.
“We believe that the only way real change will come about is if low-income people come together to fight for their common interests,” said Hamna. “That’s what we’re doing right here in Markham and Eglinton. We’re getting organized to fight for better living conditions, dignity and control over our lives.”
How much longer until disrepair forces the residents of 3171 Eglinton Ave. E. out of their homes?