Questions remain about eviction of 150 Toronto seniors in 2019 (Rabble)

By Gaetan Heroux March 6, 2023

Nearly four years ago residents of the Davenhill Senior Living centre were told they were being evicted.

In the summer of 2019 residents of 877 Yonge St., a senior’s home operated by the non-profit organization Davenhill Senior Living, were given notice that they would have to find new accommodations by the end of the year. 

In a letter dated July 3, 2019, Dan Tomlinson, chair of the board of directors, informed the tenants that Davenhill Senior Living had to make a “difficult but responsible decision to close the facility.”  Tomlinson added that the decision was made “only after it became clear that closure of the facility [was] inevitable and that the only question was how much control we would have over the timing.” 

No explanation was given to the seniors as to why the facility was closing. According to another representative, Genevieve Brown, the non-profit agency did not want to wait until “an event outside of their control forced us to close.” She does not elaborate on what that event might be. Brown went on to state that “they wanted to close on their own terms.” 

Why were the spokespeople for Davenhill Senior Living being so evasive? What did they mean when they said that the shutting down of the facility was inevitable? After all, Davenhill Senior Living had signed a 99 years lease with the building owners in the late 1980’s that was not due to expire until 2080. 

In order to understand what was happening at Davenhill Senior Living that summer one has to go back and look at events that had occurred a few months earlier. 

Ownership transferred to mysterious numbered company

According to several media reports the ownership of 877 Yonge had been transferred to a mysterious numbered company, 2692518 Ontario Inc on May 3, 2019 for $2. The numbered company had formed 10 days prior to the property being transferred. Andrew Jeanrie, a lawyer with the Bennett Jones law firm, was listed as the president and director of the numbered company. Jeanrie also listed KingSett Capital, one of Canada’s largest real-estate equity investment firms, as a client. 

Attempts to reach Jeanrie by the media regarding the eviction of the seniors and KingSett’s plans for 877 Yonge went unanswered. Jeanrie did not return their calls. When finally reached by phone by the CBC, Jeanrie refused to say what the developers were planning to do with the building.

By August of 2019, according to the Toronto Sun, three KingSett Capital principals were listed as directors of the numbered company: Bill Logar, executive vice president of asset management; David Vernon, chief legal officer and Rob Kumer, chief investment officer. The Toronto Sun’s attempts to contact KingSett Capital in April 2021 to inquire about their purchase of 877 Yonge were unsuccessful. 

Davenhill Senior Living does KingSett Capital’s dirty work 

In the summer of 2019 Genevieve Brown was asked whether the sale of the building was related to their decision to close down. She was adamant that the sale of 877 Yonge had nothing to do with the agency’s decision to close the facility. Why then was Davenhill shutting down its services?

What is clear from comments made by both Brown and Tomlinson, and from Davenhill Senior Living’s 2019 financial report, is that the closing of the facility was inevitable. In the June 30, 2019, financial report of the Yonge-Rosedale Foundation, which was operating as Davenhill Senior Living, states that the building complex had been leased for 99 years and was not due to expire until 2080. The report however goes on to say that the non-profit agency had “entered into an agreement to sell its interest in the lease agreement it has for (BLACKED OUT) subsequent to year end”, and “will cease operating as a provider of housing and care for seniors.”

This raises a number of questions. Why did Davenhill sell its interest in the lease? With whom did Davenhill make this agreement? It appears that the selling of the interest in the lease would have been a pre-condition of the purchase of the building. Someone clearly wanted the tenants out by the end of the year. Was the agreement made with the old owners of the building? Or the new owners KingSett Capital? Either way whatever plans KingSett had for the building clearly did not include its residents. Was Davenhill doing KingSett’s dirty work for them by making sure that the residents would be gone by the end of the year, thereby protecting KingSett from having to evict the seniors themselves, and avoiding the bad publicity that would follow? It certainly appears so. 

Seniors kept in the dark

Residents at the assisted living facility were confused and upset at being left in the dark about why they were being pushed out. Davenhill’s decision to close the facility had thrown their lives into chaos. Many of the seniors were in their 90’s. Some seniors reported having been bullied by staff who pressed them on a daily basis to find other accommodations. 

The seniors were particularly angry at the management for not informing them that they would have been entitled to be compensated for three months rent had they been given a formal eviction notice which had to be filed through the province’s Landlord and Tenant Board. For some of the residents this compensation amounted to more than $6,000. Residents were furious however when they later found out that in accepting the help of the relocation consultant hired by Davenhill that they had essentially waived their right to compensation through the formal process.

City of Toronto bails out KingSett Capital 

Three and a half years later there is still no indication as to who sold the property to KingSett or how much KingSett paid for the property. Nor do we know what KingSett’s plans were for the building. What we do know now however is that the plans that KingSett had for 877 Yonge never materialized. In April of 2021 the City of Toronto, using the Federal Rapid Housing fund, announced that they had purchased the 877 Yonge for close to $100 million. The building was to be turned into social housing for 250 low-income people. According to one newspaper the city had paid almost four times the market value for the property. 

READ MORE: KingSett Capital must not be allowed to mine the sky in Downtown Toronto

Lawvin Hadisi, spokesperson for then mayor John Tory, explained that the “development originally planned for the building didn’t happen” and that the building became a “viable option for the Rapid Housing Initiative.” By purchasing 877 Yonge the city was in effect bailing out KingSett Capital and did them a great favour. No explanation was given as to why KingSett’s original plans for the building did not happen. It is also unclear at what point the building became available or when the city began negotiations with KingSett. We do not know who initiated the contact. Nor do we know how much KingSett paid for the property in 2019. Every indication however is that the city overpaid KingSett for the property.

Davenhill resident refuses to leave

Amazingly enough, although Davenhill had shut down its facility at the end of November 2019, Betty Robinson, one of Davenhill’s residents had refused to leave and was still living there when the city bought the building in 2021.  Despite being offered $20,000 to vacate the building in April of 2020 Robinson remained adamant that she was not leaving. She resided in the building throughout the pandemic. Security guards paid by KingSett (or Davenhill), along with a supportive daughter who visited her, were her main companions. 

A 27 page city report on the purchase of the building, according to the Toronto Sun, made no mention of the 150 seniors losing their homes nor of the fact that one of Davenhill’s residents was still residing in the building when they bought the building.

It is unclear how Robinson managed to avoid being evicted or being pushed out throughout this period. Robinson was still paying her rent to Davenhill in April of 2020, five months after the facility had shut down. It was Dan Tomlinson who communicated to Robinson the offer of $20,000 as an incentive for her to leave. 

Davenhill’s continued involvement with Betty Robinson after the facility shut down raises some interesting questions. Was Davenhill collecting rent from Robinson on behalf of KingSett Capital?  Was Tomlinson acting as an intermediary for KingSett when he offered Robinson $20,000? Why had Robinson not been evicted? Was KingSett afraid to evict the elderly women fearing the publicity it would generate? Or were there legal reasons why KingSett could not evict her? The latter could explain KingSett’s inability to push Robinson out. 

The circumstances relating to the 150 seniors being pushed out of their homes in the summer of 2019 remains very murky. Who was really responsible for these vulnerable residents losing their homes? 

Davenhill Senior Living had chosen to keep their residents in the dark and failed to provide them with a valid explanation as to why they were shutting down the facility. Andrew Jeanrie and KingSett Capital could have provided some answers but they all chose to remain silent while the seniors were scrambling to find new accommodation. Davenhill appears to have been protecting KingSett by doing their dirty work for them. KingSett’s plans for the building clearly did not include the vulnerable senior residing at 877 Yonge. When KingSett’s plans fell apart the city came to the rescue.

KingSett bids against city for empty lots in the downtown east

Mayor Tory never publicly condemned KingSett Capital by name in the summer of 2019, although Hadisi insisted several years later that the mayor was “clearly” against the sale. KingSett’s purchase of 877 Younge set off a chain of events that would see Davenhill Senior Living’s residents being forced out of their residence. Six months after the city purchased 877 Yonge and bailed out KingSett the city rewarded them again by awarding them a contract, along with Greenwin, to develop 705 Warden Ave., a city owned property. By then the controversy of the summer of 2019 was long forgotten. 

In March of 2022 Kingsett Capital put in an offer to buy 214-230 Sherbourne. In doing so they were also bidding against the city who had put in its own offer for the properties. Three rooming houses that had been on the properties for decades were boarded up in 2008. Two of them were later demolished, while the third rooming house could not be demolished because of its historic value. It is important to note that only a year earlier the city had bailed out KingSett and paid them a generous amount of public money for 877 Yonge. The public funds that KingSett received from the city’s purchase and the profits KingSett made from the sale of 877 certainly put KingSett in a better position to compete against the city’s bid for 214-230 Sherbourne. 

KingSett now owns these properties and plans to build a large condo tower on the site, thereby killing the city’s hopes of building the social housing so desperately needed in the Dundas and Sherbourne area. Given KingSett Capital’s relationship and past history with the city, why would KingSett bid against the city for the properties at 214-230 Sherbourne? And what did KingSett Capital pay for the properties? How far away was the city’s bid from what KingSett had offered the owners? We are left to speculate here that perhaps Mayor Tory and the city were not really interested in the properties and were quite content to have their developer friends at KingSett Capital outbid them. 

99-year-old woman keeps home against all odds

The story of 877 Yonge is the story of a non-profit agency who, rather than protecting its vulnerable seniors and giving them information about what was truly happening, chose instead to keep its residents in total darkness. KingSett Capital’s plans for the building clearly did not include the residents. They were in the way. By pushing the seniors out of their homes Davenhill did KingSett’s dirty work for them.

It is the story of a group of privileged and wealthy men who hid behind a mysterious numbered company to escape their responsibilities. It is the story of a multibillion-dollar company that kept silent about the plans for the building while 150 seniors were losing their homes. 

It is the story of a city that was unable and unwilling to protect some of its most vulnerable citizens while at the same time bailing out and rewarding the very people who were responsible – KingSett Capital. It is the story of a corporation who profited from receiving federal public money through the city’s purchase of 877 Yonge – profits which KingSett Capital later used to better position themselves to win the bid against the same city for 214-230 Sherbourne.

Finally, the story of 877 Yonge is also the story of Betty Robinson who fought back and refused to leave and who understood that what had happened to her and other residents was cruel, unjust and unfair. Robinson was 99-years-old when she was interviewed in April of 2021. She had been living by herself at 877 Yonge St. since the end of November 2019 when Davenhill Senior Living shut down its facility. Despite being offered thousands of dollars she remained steadfast. She accomplished what politicians and activists were not able to do for her and the other residents – she kept her home against all odds.

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