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Vulnerable women could be displaced by opposition to downtown transitional home

Last Updated May 11, 2017 at 11:12 pm EDT

A transitional home proposed for women over 55 years old is receiving opposition from some residents in a downtown neighbourhood, and the housing advocacy group behind the development says the longer the project is stalled, the likelier it is that nearly two dozen vulnerable women will be displaced.

The owner of the mansion at 512 Jarvis Street didn’t want to appear on camera, but advised CityNews to speak with Fred Victor, an organization that works to find shelter and housing for women in Toronto.

The residence is currently capable of housing 12 women, but is looking to double the occupancy rate by this fall, when 23 tenants are expected to move in.

“The women who move in to this program will be there for a year, it’s very stable and the idea is to help them regain control of their lives and make some plans for their future,” Mark Aston said.

“We have had a great track record of doing this type of work, we have two transitional housing locations on Dundas Street, operating now for two years.”

The women currently reside at a TCH building in the area dubbed the Marry Sheffield House. Fred Victor has been trying to relocate these women, as the building will need to undergo renovations.

The program runs one year in length, and all the members come from different backgrounds. The group includes new comers, women faced with economic challenges, and physical and mental health issues.

According to a notice circulated in the community, the proposed transitional home is intended to provide a space for women who have experienced “social isolation due to absence of family support, homelessness, poverty and physical and mental health difficulties.”

It will also provide specialized services and programming for the residents, as well as have 24-7 staff on site.

“We’re trying to put together a program that can help them move out of homelessness, stabilize their lives and then move on to appropriate environments,” Aston explains. “We’ve got a lot of support for that, however there’s been some neighbourhood opposition that we’re concerned about.”

Aston says he believes most of that concern is centered around misinformation and the misconception that social service programs like transitional housing could impact property value.

“It’s great that there’s opportunities out there for women in need, but I’m concerned about the number of women they want to include,” said Leah Eichler. “It’s a very residential block.”

Eichler, who lives and works just doors down from the proposed project, says the neighbourhood’s reputation has evolved over the years, and she’s concerned with how the transitional home will affect that growth.

“If you look at the size of the house, 12 is a perfect number, what concerns me is raising that to 24 or possibly higher,” she said. “The density may change the dynamics of the neighbourhood.”

This is a time-sensitive project as the tenants expected to move into the transitional home are facing eviction in the TCH facility they currently live at, and will need to be out by October.

“If we can’t get this project open on time, we’re going to have to make alternate arrangements,” said Aston. “We’re not sure what those are at the moment, it could mean some of those women going back to the shelter system, which wouldn’t be an ideal outcome.”

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, the area’s ward councillor, adds that the proposed transitional home will be sanctioned and financed by the city, so it will be open for inspections and there will be a chain of accountability.

“We have a housing crisis in the city of Toronto, you can see the conditions on the street getting worse,” she told CityNews. “I do think we need to have the widest range of affordable housing that includes rooming houses such as the Marry Sheffield House.”

A final decision on the zoning permit is expected to be made sometime this summer, and Aston says renovations on the transitional home could take at least six months.