Slow Progress

Minto built these stacked townhouses (a two or three-storey unit above a two storey unit, each with sidewalk-level private entrances) a few years ago. Earlier this summer, there was a fire in one of the units.

The whole row of houses was evacuated, and remains empty to this day. Some units are boarded up at the rear. Others sit with six month’s accumulation of grime and dust on the windows and porches.

The units are wood-frame construction. There is not a sprinkler system. In addition to townhouse-looking stacked units, a number of low-rise apartment buildings in the city are also wood-framed (hint: usually three or four floors).

The long period when these units are closed makes me wonder what happened to the occupants. Are they all in temporary apartment-hotels? That will be expensive; did they have insurance to cover this?¬†And just how many personal possessions did residents get to take out? I would be unhappy to be kept out of my home for six months or a year. It would make a huge disruption in my life. Will the wedding pictures and kid’s birthday pictures be unkeepable when exposed to smoke damaged housing for half a year? Will moving back reinstate the sense of being “home”, or will people be alienated from their former lives?

The for sale sign on an adjacent row of houses makes me wonder what happens to residents of the damaged units who have to “move on” to other jobs or other cities or find its time to move to a different house. How do you unload an uninhabitable house? Indeed, will owners in adjacent undamaged units be able to sell, or is their property value depressed by the presence of fire-damaged units? Some buyers probably won’t notice the closed units; others would be scared off by the signs of fire damage.