A stream of displaced residents of a fire-damaged St. James Town building walked inside the emergency response office Friday to collect allowance cheques to assist them with their current accommodation arrangements.
Management of 650 Parliament has hired a dozen temporary workers to help cross-check residents’ IDs and application forms. Inside the nearby tiny office, staff members were scrambling to respond to people’s needs. Handwritten documents were strewn on the table. Some residents were outraged when a staffer couldn’t locate their forms. Others wanted to discuss better accommodation options.
Chetan Walunj, whose family is currently staying in Brampton with a friend, was among the first to collect a cheque of $1,450 — equivalent to the monthly cost of his one-bedroom apartment at 650 Parliament plus $500.
“It feels good now, but I don’t know what happens next month,” he said.
More than 1,500 residents have been out of their homes at 650 Parliament St. since a six-alarm fire on Aug. 21. The city assisted with finding initial temporary housing for displaced residents, but now that responsibility rests with the building. As residents settle into the knowledge it’ll be 2019 before they can return to their apartments, many are expressing anxiety over what will happen in the coming months.
“We are still confused,” said Judith Fernandez, who is staying with a friend near Yonge St. and Eglinton Ave. She said management has not given her any documents to confirm if the allowance will continue as long as residents are out of their units.
Mark Lavell, who spoke with the Star on Thursday, said he and his partner have found a place near Danforth Ave. and Main St. for the month of October, and while they don’t know where they’ll be next month, they’d like to know if they qualify for compensation.
He said he has had several verbal conversations with management officials, who told him that if a resident finds an unfurnished place, they receive $5,000 and would have to pay rent on their own. If they get a furnished apartment, management would cover the rent plus $500 a month. If a resident stays in a hotel, they get a $65 food voucher a day, he said.
“They’re not giving us anything in writing,” he said about management.
Meagan Lacroix, another resident who is currently staying with a friend and spoke to the Star Thursday, said she has yet to go to the management office to discuss the situation, but was under the impression she’d receive the amount of her rent at 650 Parliament plus $500. However, she said she’s heard conflicting information, and said it would be easier if management provided an official, signed legal document with clear options for residents.
“There’s no way to hold them accountable for what they’re offering,” she said.
Building relocation manager James Thomas agreed it would be ideal to have official communications throughout this process, but he added the primary objective has been, and continues to be, finding accommodation for every one of the displaced residents.
“What we are dealing with is unprecedented,” he said, noting the emergency office has assisted residents from nearly 400 of the total 554 units that make up 650 Parliament building.
“If somebody freaks out, it’s only because of miscommunication. We’re here to help everyone. They just have to come to us, and we can work it out.”
He said the amount of money given to residents is on a case-by-case basis, depending on which unit they lived in and whether their new place is furnished or unfurnished.
Thomas said the management is fully aware of the level of stress and anxiety inflicted on residents due to the process of moving around, and would like to offer options that can last longer. He advised those looking for a place to come to the office first, in order to make sure the accommodation is legitimate and within reasonable financial limits.
“You can’t just go out and rent whatever you want and expect us to pay for it. We’re here to take care of you in the emergency situation,” he said.
“If somebody can find a place for $5,000 a month, I love that, but we can get you into a fully furnished suite for less than that.”
Gilbert Ngabo is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo