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Tree planting and TCH closure

The major news of the week is the closing of a housing project at Jane and Finch.

imageToday, trees were planted at Downsview Park in a special event.

The sacrifices made by the 117,000 Canadian servicemen and women who gave their lives in military conflict since Confederation will never be forgotten, and a new initiative coinciding with Earth Day festivities aims to ensure their loss will remain front of mind.

Trees were planted in honour of each and every one of those soldiers along Highway 401, with 2,000 being planted in Downsview Park on Sunday, April 23.

Those trees – known as the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute – are part of two million native trees planted in recognition of Canadian military men and women.

At a tree planting ceremony at Downsview on Sunday, Highway of Heroes Living Tribute chair Mark Cullen said the plantings will take place between CFB Trenton and the Coroner’s Office at Keele and Wilson, a stretch of highway known as the Highway of Heroes. Fallen soldiers have been driven along that route and honoured by Canadians overlooking their journey from bridges along the way.

“It became a place of special significance when thousands of Canadians stood silently and they contemplated our cost of freedom,” he said. “158 times during the Afghan conflict this happened – Canadian personnel flown home to be repatriated here on the soil of their homeland.”

The two million trees will all be planted within a kilometre of the Highway of Heroes.

Cullen pointed out that the trees will add greenery along the stretch of road and stand as a living memorial to Canada’s fallen military members. He noted the plantings will consist of “native trees that will mature into a beauty, a reminder for generations to come of the sacrifice for peace made by so many.”

Ken Jewett of Maple Leaves Forever, a charity that promotes the planting of Canadian maple trees across Southern Ontario and that contributed to the Living Tribute initiative, said he was moved upon visiting Europe and seeing rows of gravestones for fallen soldiers.

“It’s so important we remember all the men and women who gave their lives to preserve our way of life,” he said. “Highway of Heroes brings those losses to our doorstep.”

York Centre MP Michael Levitt noted Downsview Park is an ideal site for the plantings as a former Air Force base.

Firefighters successfully fought a fire at Jane and Finch.

Firefighters have knocked down a fire at a commercial building near Jane Street and Finch Avenue.

The fire began on Eddystone Avenue around 4:45 a.m. and was extinguished by 5:20 a.m. on Thursday.

The building contains a religious gift-supply store as well as an accounting business.

The building was having work done on the roof, police said, and that may have sparked the fire inside the Hindu gift shop. The fire is not criminal, police said.

No one was hurt.

TCH is preparing to close a subsidized housing complex at Jane and Finch because it’s in a state worse than previously thought.

Mayor John Tory's executive committee reluctantly approved the closure of a Jane and Finch area housing complex Wednesday, but not before getting an earful from a tenant and former mayor.

The committee unanimously approved a motion to allow Toronto Communty Housing (TCH) to close a crumbling townhouse complex on Firgrove Crescent. In total, 134 units will be shut down in the next 12 to 18 months, with TCH hoping most of the residents will move out this summer.

Tenants were given eviction notices earlier this year, but several people connected to the area said they're shocked by TCH's move.

Former Toronto mayor John Sewell ripped the city for failing to make sure replacement buildings were ready before residents are displaced.

"This is a major failure of the city's leadership," he told the committee.

Tory, firing back, said the city is spending some $250 million on affordable housing this year, and said Sewell should be demanding that the province match that funding.

"Your voice will carry some weight … We need you there," said Tory.

The city had allotted money to repair the complex, but once work began TCH realized the buildings were too damaged to do the work.

Lottery system dictates what residents get first pick of future homes

Barry Rieder, a community minister in the area, said the idea of fixing the buildings was "honourable but flawed." He also took issue with the way TCH decided which residents would get the first pick of available units elsewhere in the city — a lottery, held last week, that was complete with numbered ping-pong balls.

"I think it's crazy," he said, suggesting TCH should be able to come up with a better way to prioritize the list of those being displaced.

TCH CEO Greg Spearn, facing questions from Tory, defended that practice, saying his organization has to be "absolutely fair and absolutely transparent" during the relocation process, and the lottery helps accomplish that.

Spearn did say, however, that his organization could have done a better job of communicating with schools in the area.

Toronto District School Board Trustee Tiffany Ford says she's worried some 100 students could be leaving local schools. That could be problematic for the schools, which have already set their staffing for next year, as well as the students.

"We don't really know where they're going to be moving," Ford said.

'I don't think they know what they're doing'

Edna Rose, a 75-year-old tenant and school crossing guard, previously told CBC Toronto that she doesn't want to leave her apartment — a well-maintained unit among many boarded up ones.

She was at city hall Wednesday hoping for a reprieve, but said she didn't hear anything that put her at ease.

"I don't think they know what they're doing," she said.

Holding a list of buildings where she could move, Rose said none of the options would work for her.

TCH is vowing to work with her one-on-one, as it will with many of the affected tenants. Spearn said the goal is to keep as many people in the area as possible.

"The last thing we want to do is close a home," he said.

Spearn said he hopes to have a plan by the end of the year to revitalize the area, which could see a mix of social housing and purpose-built apartment rentals in the area.

City council gets the final say on whether or not to close the units at an upcoming meeting.

The closing of housing units is never easy, but it should be particularly difficult in this environment of peak real estate prices and low vacancy rate. On the other hand, TCH has long been the worst landlord in Toronto.

Sources / More info: ins-trees, jf-shots, cn-jffire, cbc-tch

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