John Sewell

Stop kicking Toronto elders to the curb

The closing of many long-term care homes in Toronto did not become an issue in the mayoralty election, but it is a matter of considerable significance.

Of 34 long-term care homes in Toronto, 12 have leases that expire a year from now, in June 2025, and residents will be forced to find a new place to live. In a few cases, owners are requesting a lease extension, but in most cases the owners simply want to sell, so the property can be redeveloped.

A six-storey long-term care home in the Bathurst and St. Clair West neighbourhood near where I live provides good accommodation now for 125 residents, many with dementia. But they have been told they must move out by the end of this year, since the owner is selling the building so it can be demolished and replaced by a much higher condominium.

Provincial officials have indicated they will assist in finding alternative accommodation, but with a waiting list for long-term care beds in Toronto of almost 5,000 people, it isn’t easy.

And with the 2,500 beds in those 12 facilities being removed, the situation will become dire.

The province has promised some $6 billion in subsidies (mostly to the private sector) to provide 30,000 new beds in Ontario by 2028, as well as 28,000 upgraded beds, but few new units are under construction, and it seems clear the targets will never be met. In any case, new units will not be available in Toronto within the next year, when they are needed. The stress on our elders and their families will be enormous.

The city must step in. The one tool it has is to deny demolition permits to those private owners, making it clear it intends to do everything it can to ensure long-term care beds are not lost. One can argue that the city does not have the legal authority to deny demolition permits, but the city should use the same strategy the province has used. The province has avoided paying nurses the increase they have been awarded by appealing decisions to the courts.

When the province’s position has been rejected by the court, it appeals again. The city should adopt the same strategy to protect long-term care beds.

There’s a similar problem with the owners of rental buildings who have told tenants the building is coming down for an even bigger one. Tenants are forced to find another place to live, one that will certainly be more expensive and may not have much more security of tenure or rent than the place they are being forced to leave. Again, the city should step in and state it will refuse to provide a demolition permit, forcing the matter into the courts and the delay that implies.

The main problem is that housing of any kind — long- term care or rental — is now seen as a real estate investment, not as a way of providing good and affordable accommodation. New buildings always cost more than older buildings, so demolition and replacement does nothing to ease the housing crunch. It drives up the price of housing. And this seems to be the key strategy of the provincial government.

The city’s strategy to date has been to say it can’t do much about the situation. But it can get tough and intervene to challenge those owners who are removing good housing. It will take nerve and determination, but it must be done.

There are more than a dozen long-term care homes with licences expiring in June 2025 and thus putting residents in imminent danger of eviction.

We saw the deplorable manner in which the province treated long-term care residents during the COVID crisis, when 16,500 residents died. We can’t allow the province to ignore the needs of our elders again.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO