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'Technicality' could leave 2 dozen vulnerable older women homeless

A decision to reject an application to turn an existing building on Jarvis Street into a transitional home for older women who are experiencing homelessness, has been denied by the city.

A Toronto councillor says a technicality is now threatening to displace two dozen vulnerable women, who may have nowhere else to go.

“Housing is a human right and there are no minimum separation distances with respect to transitional homes or group homes, so that is clearly a mistake,” said the area’s Councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam.

The project was met by opposition by some residents who felt the transitional home didn’t belong in the neighbourhood.

Social Service Agency Fred Victor had a vision to transform the building for their clients over the age of 55, but that dream is now on hold after the Committee of Adjustment rejected the request to renovate the building north of Wellesley Street.

The notice of decision shows the committee refused the application for four reasons. Among them, that the changes aren’t “considered desirable for the appropriate development of the land,” and “the variance (s) is not minor.”

Wong-Tam says though the application for 512 Jarvis Street was approved by city planning, it was “considered undesirable” by the committee, which shows there’s a discrepancy.

“The fact that city planning allowed this application to go through to the committee of adjustment says that they agreed that the application was minor in nature, and that’s why it was permitted to go through,” said the Councillor.

Fred Victor, who supports low income and homeless people in Toronto, submitted the application to renovate the site, asking to double the occupancy from 12 to 24 self-contained units.

The heritage building would be the new home for the women who were supposed to move out of the Marry Sheffield House by the end of the year, as the TCH building is set to undergo some major renovations. Though the organization is planning on appealing the decision, there are fears that it could take months.

“Unfortunately because the systems are so clogged and busy, apparently we won’t get to the local appeal board before December,” said Mark Aston, Fred Victor’s Executive Director. “To see that fall apart will really be disappointing on a number of levels.”

Aston says they are trying to avoid placing the women in shelters, and are instead working on a contingency plan to find temporary housing for them.

Wong-Tam says she is calling for a more unified decision process when applications like these are being considered.

“City planning needs to be clearer the next time around, because I think it has big impacts,” she said. “I don’t think we should allow technicalities to get in the way of housing expansion, especially housing expansion for affordable options.”