Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Rupert Hotel Fire - December 23, 1989


Today is the 25th anniversary of the Rupert Hotel fire that killed one woman and nine men in Toronto.  

Those who lost their lives that day were:

Donna Marie Cann, Vincent Joseph Clarke, Stanley Blake Dancy, David Didow, Edward Finnigan, John Thomas Flint,  Dedomir Sakotic, Ralph Oral Stone, Vernon Stone, and Victor Paul White

The Rupert was located at 182 Parliament Street close to Queen Street East.

In 1989, the Rupert was overcrowded and badly maintained. 

A plaque erected at the site in 1993 notes that the fire "sparked action by municipal and provincial governments and community organizations to improve conditions in rooming houses."

In the years following the tragedy, about 500 units of Toronto housing were created or upgraded to meet or exceed the already existing standards. Not long after the plaque was installed, though, the funding that supported the upgrades and advocacy ended. The year 1995 brought Common Sense to Ontario and the building of all affordable housing came to a crashing halt.

What has happened since then?

On the positive side, the legislation has changed over the years so that most residents in rooming houses are considered to be tenants and have rights and responsibilities of tenants. 

However, licensing of rooming houses that would be a benefit to tenants and would help to reduce the chance of fires continues to be problematic.

 
One reason for this is that rooming houses are popping up in the suburbs where they are not legal but also not usually subject to appropriate regulation.

Lisa Freeman, a postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Geography at Simon Fraser University, has done extensive research on Toronto’s rooming houses.  In a twenty-seven page paper published by the Wellesley Institute (Toronto’s: Suburban Rooming Houses: Just a Spin on a Downtown “Problem?”) she looks at the lack of regulation of this housing in much of the City of Toronto.

In researching her subject, Freeman conducted 73 interviews with tenants, housing and settlement workers and Toronto city staff. 

Freeman points out, as we and others have often argued, that rooming houses: 

“… represent both a step away from, homelessness and a step towards stable and secure housing.  Though often depicted as temporary housing for transient individuals, the majority of tenants rely on rooming houses for long term dwellings, spending 2—30 years living in multiple rooming houses.”  (page 5)

In Toronto, rooming houses are licensed and permitted in the downtown city and in south Etobicoke.  But, they are explicitly prohibited in Scarborough, North York and East York.

This inconsistency is actually written into Toronto’s new zoning by-law.

One impact of this variation is that there are now fewer licensed rooming houses areas where they are permitted but more unlicensed unregulated houses in the areas where they are not allowed.

“Since many rooming houses exist beyond a licensing and regulation regime, the living conditions can quickly become unsafe and a threat to tenants’ health. If annual fire and safety inspections do not occur, there is a greater possibility that unlicensed rooming houses will deteriorate and risk becoming fire hazards that lead to fatal fires,” says Freeman (page 6)    

This is undoubtedly occurring in other cities.  For example, the number of licensed rooming houses in Hamilton dropped significantly beginning in the early part of the 21st century.

Freeman believes that “the inconsistency in municipal regulations across the city leaves tenants in a vulnerable position and at risk for unhealthy, unsafe living conditions with little protection and oversight.” (Page 1)

So, exactly how many unlicensed rooming house are there?   

Following a fatal rooming house fire in the Kensington area of Toronto in March of 2014, Michael Shapcott, director of affordable housing and social innovation at the Wellesley Institute, was interviewed by Erin Ruddy for Canadian Apartment Magazine.

In that story, Shapcott said, “there is no way to know for certain how many unlicensed rooming houses exist.”  The waiting list for subsidized housing “provides a good indication” and it is huge and growing.

Appropriate regulation and licensing of rooming houses is imperative.  There is much work to do.

 

Sources

  1. Lisa Freeman Toronto’s: Suburban Rooming Houses: Just a Spin on a Downtown “Problem?” at http://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Suburban-Rooming-Houses-FINAL-Sept-24.pdf
  2. Rooming Housing Fire Highlights Safety Concerns from Canadian Apartment Magazine.  http://www.reminetwork.com/articles/rooming-house-fire-highlights-safety-concerns/
  3. From the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic’s website http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/blog/?post=Tenant+Safety+Must+be+a+Priority&id=237)

 

 

Monday, December 08, 2014

Memories of a Deputy Mayor

Toronto has a new one.  Or, do they have four of them? 

 

There is a real one (Denzil Minnan-Wong) with significant responsibilities. There are also three area ones (West, East and South) whose jobs are largely symbolic.

 

For a year, the previous Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly assumed most of the duties of the elected Mayor.  So, we knew what he was doing.

 

But what does a Deputy Mayor really do?

 

Some will remember the American TV series (Spin City) where Michael J. Fox played Mike Flaherty, the Deputy Mayor.  Flaherty was a staffer who had real power. Your local Deputy Mayor in Ontario usually does not.

 

I can speak from experience.

 

Yes, your blogger was a Deputy Mayor.

 

Back in the nineties in Burlington, I was usually DM duties in the month of November.

 

Then I would go to ribbon cuttings, bring greetings from the City and attend other ceremonial events that the real Mayor wasn’t interested in attending.

 

One November I carried a teddy bear around for the entire month.  This was to highlight National Diabetes Awareness Month.  I was simulating being diabetic by checking my blood sugar and injecting pretend insulin into the bear at appropriate times.  I learned a lot about diabetes that month.  Strangely, though, no one ever asked me why I was carrying around that silly teddy bear.

 

Another time I was subbing for the Mayor at a function where I was seated at the head table with the much better-known local MP and local MPP.   A friend of mine was in the audience.  After the meeting, the friend came up and spoke with me with something like awe in her voice.  “I didn’t know you were Deputy Mayor, `` she said.  I fessed up.

 

My most significant assignment as a Deputy Mayor came in 1997 when I accompanied the Burlington Teen Tour Band to Holland for ten days.   I was privileged to have the opportunity to make this trip and represent the City of Burlington in a number of events that commemorated the 1945 Liberation of Holland and our country`s highly regarded participation in that liberation and the loss of 7,600 Canadian  lives.

 

The trip did have its later moments though.

 

One such moment arose in Groningen when I was repeatedly referred to and addressed as “The Burgermeister from Burlington.” The Dutch, like us, didn’t seem to understand the concept of Deputy Mayor.  

 

In this northern Dutch city, I took part in a parade commemorating that day three hundred and twenty five years earlier when the city was freed from the siege by the Bishop of the German city of M√ľnster.

I rode in a (covered) carriage with the real Burgermeister and his lovely wife while giving the royal wave (I didn't know the correct Burgermeister wave.) to the tens of thousands people gathered along the route.  It was absolutely pouring rain and the hard working and drenched chaperones from the Teen Tour Band were not amused as my carriage passed them repeatedly and I waved.  The joke was on them as they were the ones who had embellished my Burgermeister bonafides.

Someone took a picture of me and I was looking down with an appropriate disdainful scowl that I'm sure I affected again when the Burgermeister's wife pointed out the Communist member of Council waving at us from his doorway.
  
I could go on………………

(This story originally appeared at http://foreveryoungnews.com/)