‘Like lightning has struck’: Eviction looms for 150 residents of Toronto seniors’ home

Sigrid Riko is 96 — and she has no idea where she’s going to live.

For the last eight years, Riko has been living at Davenhill Senior Living, a not-for-profit, assisted-living home in Rosedale. Last week, she and the rest of the facility’s 150 residents found out the building has been sold, so they need to get out by the end of the year.

“I thought I would be here to the end of my life,” Riko said through tears on Monday.

“When you’re younger, you don’t feel so much pressure inside you, you know? If you have to move, you can take it easier. But if you are … my age, it’s really something like lightning has struck you.”

In a city riddled with housing affordability issues, Riko’s daughter Krista says they are now scrambling to find somewhere suitable for her mom to live. There are challenges — Davenhill covers some of Riko’s meals, and helps with housekeeping. There’s also a nurse on call 24/7.

Management has hired a relocation consultant to help residents find new accommodations at no cost — but that hasn’t done much to lessen the blow, she said.

“This should not be allowed to happen,” Krista Riko told CBC Toronto. “These people should not be antagonized and tortured in their final days.”

Dan Tomlinson, chair of Davenhill’s board of directors, informed residents in a letter that the board had made the “difficult but responsible decision” to close the facility.

“We acknowledge and regret the challenges this may create for the members of our community and would like to reassure everyone that we took this decision only after it became clear that closure of the facility is inevitable and that the only question was how much control we would have over the timing,” Tomlinson wrote.

“By making this difficult decision proactively and announcing it now, well before the closure date, we are ensuring our residents have the best opportunity to properly manage the transition to the next chapter of their lives.”

Building sold to company linked to real estate lawyer

The letter did not specify exactly why the building was closing. In a statement, Davenhill spokesperson Genevieve Brown told CBC News that the sale of the property and the decision to close the senior’s home are “entirely unrelated.”

“In keeping with our mission, the health, safety and welfare of our community was our primary concern when making this difficult decision,” she said.

The building at 877 Yonge St. just north of Davenport Road was sold back in May to a numbered company, which lists Toronto real estate lawyer Andrew Jeanrie as director and president. Land registry records show the company was set up just over a week before the building changed hands.

Jeanrie refused to comment on the sale when reached by CBC News.

The ‘commodification of housing’

Ward 11 Coun. Mike Layton said the city hasn’t gotten any development proposals for the site — but residents worry it will become yet another condo project.

Layton said it appears the operator has done everything required by law to go about relocating people. There isn’t much the city can do, he said, but he hopes the province will monitor the situation.

“We hope this relocation can happen quickly, and these people can find appropriate places to live with the level of care that they need,” he said.

But this situation speaks to a larger issue in Toronto, he said, where some of the city’s most vulnerable people are ending up on the street.

“It’s all about this commodification of housing, to the point that housing isn’t a place where people live, it’s an investment that you make,” he said.

“And sure, it’s the biggest investment … a lot of people will make in their lifetime. But it shouldn’t just be thought of as an investment. It’s my home first and an investment second.

“When people go out and spend this enormous amount of money buying a property just to turn a profit without thought to what the future is going to hold for the people living there — that’s a really disturbing scenario, but one that we’re seeing more and more.”

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