Prior to 2018, Toronto's West Lodge apartments were infamously nicknamed "Worst Lodge."
This title was reflective of the buildings' troubling past; the apartments at 103 and 105 West Lodge Avenue have been at the centre of fatal tragedies, drug-related scandals, and rental rights issues. In 2016, a West Lodge tenant went insofar as to call the apartments the "Harlem of Parkdale" when speaking to the CBC. But a recent media release issued by Hazelview Properties -- they took over management of the apartments in 2018 -- says that the company has invested $23M to "transform West Lodge into sustainable and resilient apartment buildings."
"Recognizing that rental is a critical part of the housing mix in the GTA, Hazelview’s tower renewal work included building improvements with an aim of helping ensure these two towers remained viable, quality rental housing into the future," the release goes on to say.
In addition to improving the building itself, Hazelview has introduced systems and technology geared at eco-consciousness, including an intelligent irrigation system, drought-resistant grass, and eco-friendly paints, carpeting, and lighting. More than 1,000 trees and shrubs will be planted around the property.
To an interpersonal end, Hazelview is putting an emphasis on rebuilding a sense of community at West Lodge, with the addition of indoor lobby libraries, an outdoor fountain with seating, play spaces for children, and a community garden.
"With a focus on resident engagement and support, a dedicated Community Liaison works in the West Lodge community," reads the release. "A brand-new community hub was built which offers a bright, safe, engaging location for residents to enjoy a variety of free programming, such as ESL classes, health and wellness classes, kid’s activities, skills workshops, and more."
"These two properties have a special place in our hearts," says Colleen Krempulec, a spokesperson for Hazelview. "We saw 103 and 105 West Lodge as an opportunity to really to bring improvements to what, at the time, had been a long-neglected property. But it certainly has come with challenges."
Improving the conditions at West Lodge has been neither a quick or painless process.
In fact, just a few years after Hazelview had taken over management of the apartments, tenants alleged threats of evictions, poor living conditions, and unanswered work orders in the hundreds. STOREYS reached out to the West Lodge Tenants Association for comment on the reality of such issues and whether they have been resolved, but they are yet to respond.
Colleen Krempulec, a spokesperson for Hazelview, disputes the piece about evictions. She says over the past four years of management, Hazelview has evicted around 20 tenants for reasons ranging from rent arrears to criminal activity or activity that endangered other tenants.
"This is this is a property that has over 700 units," she adds. "And what I can tell you is that in the case of non-payment of rent, we always try to work it out with the residents. Before we get to eviction, we are going to try to work it out with them one-on-one or we try to work through payment agreements through the LTB process."
For the rest, Krempulec says there has been a lot of misunderstanding. Management was dealing with a backlog of not only maintenance requests, but many repairs to the building infrastructure that had been unaddressed by the previous landlord.
"That would have been replacing the entire heating and hot water system, replacing and upgrading the fire and life safety systems, replacing and fixing the elevators, replacing rusting plumbing. We improved the bones of the buildings so that we could minimize the floods that were occurring and improve the thermal system. That's work that residents don't see," she says. "These properties had been neglected for decades, so it is not an understatement to say that when we took over management there was a lot of work that needed to be done."
Additionally, according to original reporting by the Toronto Star in 2020, West Lodge tenants were fearful that, with all of the improvements, the apartments would be converted into luxury rentals catering to high-income earners.
Hazelview disputed that assertion then, as they still do now.
"We have not applied or issued any above guideline rent increases. So all of this work is being done for West lodge residents," says Krempulec. "The tenant-landlord relationship can sometimes be challenging, but we have been so focused on improving and building trust with residents at West Lodge. I really believe the sentiment and the trust in us as the property manager has improved year over year over year."
In tandem with the revitalization of the property, West Lodge tenants have had a hand in its rebrand. In particular, two long-time residents have co-created the new branding.
"I am very excited to make such a meaningful mark on a building I have lived in for nearly 20 years,” says Rachel, one of the creators of the new branding. “Hazelview has built a community that is welcoming and safe – two things that residents haven’t always felt with previous landlords.”
The rebranding will be unveiled tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. ET and will be marked by a community summer party and barbecue at the new and improved West Lodge grounds.
"The party we're having this week is about getting together and seeing each other as neighbours and celebrating all the work that we've done over the last four years," says Krempulec. "But that doesn't mean we're done. There is always going to be work to do and we're committed to continuing to invest in this community as long as we're property manager."