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Roughly 250 people forced to evacuate Winnipeg apartment building deemed unsafe


Approximately 250 residents of a St. James area apartment building will have to leave their homes immediately, as the City of Winnipeg issued a vacate order over unsafe conditions.

The city issued the directive Thursday to the owners of Birchwood Terrace at 2440 Portage Ave, under the Winnipeg Building By-Law and the Emergency Management By-Law.

This evacuation order comes after a third-party engineering inspection of the 171-suite building found severe deterioration of its structure in several locations.

“This order was issued to prevent a potential disaster,” said Jason Shaw, deputy chief of emergency management & public information, during a Friday morning news conference.

Shaw told reporters that the inspection found the columns supporting the building to be structurally unsound. The building was constructed in the 1960s.

Officials have been going door-to-door to tell tenants about the situation and ensure the building is vacated. Residents of neighbouring properties will also be informed they are on evacuation watch, and told to prepare for possible evacuation.

The city noted that it has been in contact with the property owner, Ladco, and property manager Lakewood Agencies, about the requirements of this order, which include immediate evacuation, prohibiting entry to the property until it is deemed safe, and continuous 24/7 monitoring of the property.

The city said it has set up a reception centre at Holiday Inn Airport West (2520 Portage Avenue) to support residents and help them find alternate accommodations.

Mayor Scott Gillingham called it an “emotional and difficult time for residents” of the building. He said by 8:45 a.m. Friday morning, 50 people had been helped at the reception centre set up at the Holiday Inn.

“The City of Winnipeg will continue to support you in any way that we can as you navigate this challenging time,” Gillingham said.

The timeline for repairs has not yet been determined; however, it’s expected to take several months.

Premier Wab Kinew, speaking at a health-care announcement in Carberry, said the province will be able to help if needed.

“Our government is in there as a supporting capacity right now, and we’ll be there in the long-term,” he said.

Kinew said one of the things the province would be able to help with is ensuring medical services are covered, such as prescriptions or missing health cards. 

Residents left scrambling

Moving vans and trucks could be seen at the building as residents left with their belongings Friday morning. Winnipeg police and firefighters were on hand to help.

Andrew Boyce, a resident of the building, said he’s in the process of packing up his belongings and trying to find a place to live.

“I might have to drive one-and-a-half-hours out of the city to find a place to live right now,” he said in an interview on Friday morning.

“They’re offering me options. Those options aren’t feasible.”

Boyce said he is looking to file a lawsuit against the building.

He noted that people need to be careful about who they sign a lease with.

Barb Helgason, a resident of the apartments for the past three years, said she received a knock on her door at 9 p.m. and the order to vacate.

“Just clean up your personal items and move out,” she said.

Kayla Dussome was on her mom’s balcony Friday, moving items from her apartment to a moving vehicle.

”I was shocked, we didn’t know truly what was going on,” she said. “Everything was very wishy-washy.”

 Dussome, who lived in a separate unit in the building, said she didn’t have an idea of where she and her family would end up after the space was cleared.

“We have no idea where we’re going,” she said.

Residents receive letter 

Residents received a letter from Lakewood Agencies about the order to vacate, including a list of housing options attached, according to the letter obtained by CTV News Winnipeg.

“Damaged structure has been discovered,” the letter reads. “There may be more damaged structure, but further investigation cannot proceed if the building is occupied. Furthermore, repairs cannot be completed while the building is occupied.”

The letter also states leases are considered terminated and cheques with prorated rents and damage deposits with accrued interest will be available during a tenant information meeting on Friday.

Once work is completed, the tenants will have first right of refusal to return to their unit.

Henry Borger, the vice president of Residential Properties for Ladco, spoke to CTV News after the tenant meeting and said there was no way for the company to have known about this major issue.

He said the real problem was only detected after they started to do the inspection. Borger also said the issue wasn't a result of under-investing in maintenance.

He feels they have done everything required and they are thankful for finding the flaw before a more serious issue occurred.

Borger added that he feels for the tenants and what they are having to go through.

"My heart goes out to them," he said while choking up. "They had to be told to uproot their lives in hours to move. That's what gets me.

"If anyone has friends from the building, please contact them. This is a tough time, they could use a call."

Borger said they are confident the building will be repaired and will reopen for people to live in.

- With files from CTV’s Joseph Bernacki and Jeff Keele. Top Stories

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