These are our neighbours: Swansea Mews

Jun 17, 2022

“What would you do if it happened to you?” 

That is what a resident of Swansea Mews asked at a Town Hall meeting this week, after a cement ceiling block fell on a woman in her home, sending her to the hospital and leading to the entire complex being evacuated.

Swansea Mews is a Toronto Community Housing Corporation neighbourhood on Windermere in Parkdale-High Park. It’s home to more than 100 families, all of whom are being forced to relocate as the buildings have been deemed unsafe.

This is a terrible situation that requires an urgent response, not just to protect people’s safety, but to ensure that their lives remain as stable as possible and to meaningfully address our growing housing crisis.

While TCHC is responding to the situation and moving people into temporary housing, here’s what I think should be happening:
A human-centred response
If something happened to your home – no matter if you rent or own – you would want to stay nearby while its fixed so your kids can get to school, you can get to work and the services and supports you rely on are still close at hand. This shouldn’t be any different for Swansea Mews residents.

The response to Swansea Mews situation should include:

-A relocation and re-housing strategy that prioritizes keeping people in their neighbourhoods and takes into account their personal needs and priorities, including childcare, school, employment and medical realities, and which does not force unreasonable timelines, waivers or lotteries.
-Allowing people to find their own temporary housing options while retaining their right to re-occupancy within Swansea Mews and having their costs covered.
-The immediate provision of storage facilities and assistance in moving people’s possessions safely and securely out of their units.
-Improved communications with tenants – putting the onus on TCHC to ensure all tenants are informed and taken care of, rather than requiring residents to self-identify for support.
-The introduction of a centralized location for tenant support, mail distribution and information that is in a safe and accessible location outside of the buildings themselves.
-Covering the cost of relocation and recognizing that reimbursement models take too long and are inaccessible for many.
-The coordination of local support efforts which could provide emergency groceries, furniture and other necessities to residents who have been forced out of their homes and which demonstrates the care and concern of the surrounding community.
An opportunity to think differently about housing
Beyond the immediate needs of these families, this is an opportunity to rally city divisions and partners around longterm solutions, as it is unlikely these buildings will be able to be fixed.

A housing focused approach should:
-Assess residents’ needs and situations to see who is able to transition out of community housing and into permanent homes.
-Think differently about how we create short-term supportive housing within the neighbourhood and how we can expedite the rebuilding of the Swansea Mews community so it’s safe, vibrant and well-maintained.
-Introduce a Toronto-wide emergency housing system that:
-Prioritizes keeping people in their neighbourhoods when disaster strikes;
-Assesses needs and priorities for emergency relocation beyond unit size;
-Focuses on family wellbeing and trust;
-Communicates clearly and effectively;
-Expedites and increases the provision of Housing Stabilization Funds;
-And provides designated tenant advocates to help residents navigate these situations.
As City Councillor, I want to make sure everyone in Parkdale-High Park is not only safe but treated with compassion and dignity, and my office will play a role in convening neighbourhood support and action when emergencies strike.