[Hpn] TORONTO: Rupert Hotel memorial

Graeme Bacque gbacque@colosseum.com
Fri, 20 Dec 2002 05:16:39 -0800


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Dec. 20, 2002. 01:00 AM The Toronto Star

Rupert deaths a bitter memory
Lack of action followed 1989 fatal hotel fire Need for housing stressed in
street corner memorial

BETSY POWELL
STAFF REPORTER

An "ordinary corner" in downtown Toronto where 10 people perished in a 1989
fire two days before Christmas has become a symbol of the best and the worst
the city can do responding to a tragedy, former mayor Barbara Hall said at a
memorial ceremony yesterday.

The Rupert Hotel deaths, at Queen and Parliament Streets, initially prompted
a crackdown on the city's unsafe rooming houses and led the province to
boost funding to help improve living conditions in them.

But those efforts have stalled and the need for affordable, safe housing is
as strong as ever, Hall told about 30 people gathered on the sidewalk.

"We need once again to have people come together as they did in '89."

Bob Keel, chairman of the advocacy group Rupert Community Inc., agreed time
has not eliminated the prospect of other another Rupert Hotel. "The fire
department, the city did a great job after they tightened some of the things
up. But I'm sure there are some that are slipping between the cracks."

Fortunately, there are vigilant housing groups that "blow the whistle" when
they find fire traps. "But that creates a delicate balancing act because do
you put them out of business ... reducing housing stock or work with them to
help them find money to upgrade or carry them over the hump," Keel said.

An inquest jury into the Rupert tragedy found a variety of factors
contributed to the death toll, including a lack of "separation" doors to
prevent smoke and flames from spreading quickly, plus the lack of proper
fire alarm systems and fire exits.

Larry Chilton, who runs a rooming house that sleeps 12, said as long as the
city is suffering from a shortage of affordable housing, it needs properly
run rooming houses. Yet expanding or building them is "like pulling teeth,
you can't do it."

He called on governments to help landlords secure a mortgage "on the same
terms somebody gets on a bungalow in the suburbs. We pay double that and
more"  if they can get a mortgage at all, he added.

Rooming house landlords also find it difficult to obtain and retain fire
insurance.

Chilton criticized those who believe government-run social housing is the
only solution to homelessness.

"We've got huge prejudice against this form of housing and people."

Rooming house tenant and homeless advocate Mike Crawford suggested all the
new condo projects set aside one or two units as affordable housing so poor
people aren't ghettoized, something critics have long argued is to blame for
the problems in nearby Regent Park.

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