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Displaced residents of 650 Parliament out until August

Last Updated Mar 9, 2019 at 6:09 pm EDT

Displaced residents of 650 Parliament St. line up on Aug. 28, 2018, to get temporary access to their units after they were forced out after a fire on Aug. 21 2018. CITYNEWS/Craig Wadman

Over 1,500 residents who were displaced by a massive electrical fire in St. James Town won’t be allowed back until August at the earliest.

In the most recent update provided by 650 Parliament, the management group said their estimate of a June occupancy is no longer viable and it will be pushed back once again.

The six-alarm fire, which happened on Aug. 21 last year, was caused by a major electrical failure. Damage to individual units was minimal, but the building’s electrical system was severely damaged.

For 15 years Rebecca and Peter Gondos called 650 Parliament home. But for the last six months they’ve been trying to make sense of living in a different apartment which is half the size of their own while costing them four times the rent.

“Over time they’ve become silent, reticent, non responsive, and basically not treating us like tenants,” Rebecca says of the building management’s lack of response. “I mean we’ve been paying rent to them for 15 years and we want to go home.”

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says she hears regularly from tenants, like the Gondos, about the lack of communication from building management.

“The level of mental anguish is pretty high. For any one of us to be displaced from our home, even for one week, would be very stressful, let alone it’s going to be a year before these folks are able to get back home.”

“I know it would make a huge difference to be given clear, consistent information every two weeks …just more information would give people some assurance that work is progressing in a timely and urgent manner.”

Over $20-million has been spent for repairs so far and an estimated $25- $30-million will be required to address all the damage to the building. The update said over $10-million has been spent on tenants’ assistance since the fire.

Wong-Tam says while the building is not city-owned, the city itself has incurred expenses as a result of the fire and they have every intention of recovering those costs.

“Literally millions have been spent. I know that we are trying to recover that cost, the city has every intention to recover that cost, whether or not we’ll be able to do it I’m not sure, we may end up having to go to court to recover that cost. But I can share with you our intention is that the city’s financial loss will be made whole.”

The group says the situation on the damage repair remains fluid and their understanding of the damage continues to evolve so determining a firm re-occupancy date in advance would be impossible.

Rebecca says she’s ‘exceptionally disappointed’ while revealing to CityNews the toll the lengthy delay in getting back home is having on them.

“It just keeps getting later and later and later and it brings you down. It really does wear on you.”

“I could rant for three hours on how we feel about this but basically it comes down to, we want to go home. To know that it’s going to be the end of August, a year past when it happened (pause) …we just want them to do what they have to do to get us back.”

Lawyers for the residents have filed a class-action lawsuit against building management and Toronto Hydro to get compensation for expenses and other losses.

After the fire at 650 Parliament and a basement flood at nearby 260 Wellesley Street East, Mayor John Tory ordered a comprehensive series of inspections would be carried out in apartment buildings in St. James Town and other areas around the city.


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