They have more courage than I
Bearing in mind the chill, landlords faced a lot of heat

National Post, January 23, 2001

by Joe Fiorito, City columnist

Give the Wynns credit for courage.

They are brothers, Paul and Leslie. They are the landlords of West Lodge, a large apartment complex in Parkdale where few of the mods. are con., and where the heat was off, there was no hot water and the power was intermittent for a couple of days over Christmas.

And so it was no small act of bravery when the Wynns held a meeting with the residents of West Lodge one evening last week.

The topic of discussion: There is an abandoned swimming pool in the apartment complex; the pool hasn't been used in 25 years; rather than repair it, the Wynns want to use the space to build eight new apartments.

There may be an occasional lack of heat in West Lodge, but there was no lack of heat at the meeting. A bit of subtext helps here -- as well as consulting the residents about plans for the new apartments, the Wynns recently applied for an above-the-guideline rent increase of 11%, the need for which they attribute to rising costs.

Some 80 concerned tenants showed up to the meeting. They were a feisty lot -- new Canadians, old and young, from AAsia, India and the Caribbean.

Before the architect could show off his drawings, a man stood and said, loudly, "We're concerned about our treatment.

"Do you care about us? Do you care about built or not built? Do you care about eat or not eat?" He got a table-thumping ovation.

Leslie Wynn rolled his eyes. The architect, wearing a suit I'd say was worth two months' rent, quietly continued with his presentation.

Bearing in mind how cold it was in West Lodge over the holidays, an elderly tenant interrupted with a practical question: "How are you going to get heat, or electricity or water to the new apartments? Which boiler? Or are you getting a different one?"

He, too, got an ovation. And not much of an answer. It was plain that most of the tenants assumed the load would be borne by the existing boilers.

Another man stood and pointed a finger: "You are facing us with a new project. You haven't fixed the old one yet!" Some tenants: "Oh, oh!"

And so on.

After an hour or so of this, the Wynns and their architect left the meeting, having at least accomplished the goal of consultation. The tenants then held a private discussion about ways to fight the proposed rent increase.

On the subject of rent, a woman dressed in red remarked, hotly, "I have lived 13 years in West Lodge. They have never cleaned the carpet in the hallway. The hallway is very dirty.

"A light on my floor has been blown for three years. The elevators are always out of order."

I was curious to know if her claims were true; when the meeting adjourned, the woman in red agreed to show me around.

Two elevators on the ground floor of West Lodge seemed stuck; the two that were in service seemed slow.

When we made it to her floor, it was plain to see the carpet in the hallway was filthy, as she had said; the light in the hall was indeed burned out, which meant the entrance to her apartment was in partial darkness.

She invited me in. She is a pensioner who lives alone. She is a good housekeeper; her floors were spotless. She had stuffed rags in the cracks where the wind blows in under her balcony door, and more rags to stop the cold air that leaks in through her ill-fitting windows.

Her radiator gives off almost no heat. Her thermostat does not respond. In places, the walls of her apartment are crumbling. The dials of her ancient stove in her kitchen do not work unless you twist them just so.

She pointed to the base of her living-room wall. "This is where the rats run at night. I lost a pair of shoes to them; they ate my shoes in the closet." She has complained about these and other matters for years, but says she gets no response.

For this, she pays $702 a month. She gets a pension of $900 a month. After paying for basic cable and telephone, she has a few dollars left over for food.

The Wynns showed courage, facing this woman in a public meeting. I wouldn't have had the guts to look her in the eye.

Go back to the West Lodge (Toronto) Tenants Association home page.

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