By Mike Anderson
Uptown Keswick business owners are concerned about drug dealing and other criminal activity at Lakeside Residences, a mixed family and seniors apartment building, which includes market rent and subsidized units, located at 17 The Queensway S.
They say police are frequently called to the 97-unit property, which opened in 2014 and is operated by Housing York Inc. (HYI), the region’s non-profit municipal housing corporation.
They also say the criminal activity, which has been occurring in the building for years, has been spreading to nearby streets.
These claims are backed-up by the YRP’s Community Safety Data Portal, which lists criminal violations by street intersections rather than by a specific address.
According to the YRP portal, in 2022, there were seven drug violations, including trafficking of opioids, cocaine and crystal meth, within a one-block radius of the Lakeside Residences; this was a slight improvement over 2021, which saw ten drug violations.
However, the area has also seen an uptick in violent crimes. In 2022, there were eight assaults with a weapon, up from three in 2021. There was also a stabbing in the building in 2021, which resulted in an attempted murder charge.
Business owners, who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity, are also frustrated with the lack of action taken by the Town of Georgina, York Regional Police and HYI to address the problem.
They want better community policing, security cameras, and upgraded street lighting.
But more importantly, they want Housing York Inc. to convert Lakeside Residences back into a seniors-only building, as it was proposed initially.
Lakeside Residences is the only HYI apartment building in Georgina that is mixed, combining seniors with younger residents, including some that have been transferred from other public housing projects and have addiction and mental health issues.
However, at least one business owner disputes the building is contributing to street crime.
While she acknowledges some local businesses have been impacted, Corrine Ennis, owner of Petal Pushers, says YRP has stepped up its presence and HYI has done its best to evict the “bad apples”.
She says the neighbourhood is safe, and people should not be scared to shop there.
The Post also talked to several current and past residents, who also declined to have their names published.
They confirmed that drug dealing and other criminal activity, including break and enters, vandalism, and mail and package thefts, have occured in the building.
They also say used hypodermic syringes have been discarded in parking areas, and at the bottom of the elevator shafts.
One former resident calls it a “bad building” that, after nearly three years, she and her husband were happy to leave.
She recalls calling the police multiple times, including after a pair of armed women broke into a drug dealer’s apartment down the hall.
Another former resident confirmed that one drug dealer was brazenly dealing drugs from the window of his ground-floor apartment, which opened onto the parking lot. He was eventually arrested and evicted.
While Housing York Inc. says “any criminal activity on its premises is taken very seriously,” it will not disclose how many tenants at Lakeside Residences have been criminally charged, considering it a police matter.
It would also not provide information about tenant evictions at the property, but added evictions due to criminal activity are a rare occurrence in the 37 properties HYI manages across the region.
In fact, since 2018, HYI says it is only aware of three such cases.
However, this does not preclude evictions based on other reasons, like harrasment or non-payment of rent.
In one incidence, a drug dealer was evicted from the building by HYI after a group of seniors testified against her at Landlord and Tenant tribunal. The drug dealer was not evicted because of a criminal charge.
HYI also admits it doesn’t screen prospective tenants for criminal convictions.
“Housing is identified as a human right, and the Ontario Human Rights Code protects residents against discrimination; asking for information or denying someone housing due to mental health, or criminal background is discriminatory,” said Patrick Casey, Director of Corporate Communications for York Region in an email to The Post.
Residents, especially seniors, would like more security measures implemented in the building.
Currently, the building’s superintendent is only available during the day.
Although there are security cameras, they are not monitored regularly, and footage is only reviewed after an incident is reported.
However, many residents are afraid to report incidents, believing they could be targeted.
HYI says it works closely with YRP to organize in-person safety information sessions for residents regularly.
“Together with York Regional Police, HYI will be organizing an upcoming information session for Lakeside Residences on crime prevention strategies, including thefts from mailboxes and parcel deliveries,” Casey said on January 24.
However, this is not enough for some seniors in the building.
Nor does it provide much solace for local business owners who have seen a decline in foot-traffic combined with an uptick in shoplifting.
One business owner, who was repeatedly harassed by a woman from the building after she was caught shoplifting, admitted that they would have never opened their business next to the building if they knew it would get so bad.
“They need to acknowledge there’s a problem and resolve it,” the business owner said.
“The situation is unacceptable,” adds Karin Cacciola, former Chair of the Uptown Keswick Business Improvement Area (UKBIA). “That apartment building is a huge problem.”
“It’s the wrong mix in that building. I feel sorry for the ladies who live in there.”
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