One day I saw this notice on the bulletin board downstairs ... I was sure that change was coming.
Then again I could be wrong. We have the same TCHC staff running the community engagement within the organization that have been doing it for over thirty years. Now what did I say in my Manifesto? Oh yeah ... TCHC should "Take a page from the tech industry. No employee stays at a tech company until they retire. Innovation breeds change. Change breeds innovation."
Basically, the two choices presented at the meeting were a) having delegates decide at an allocation day & b) tenant council members decide at council meetings. These two choices were apparently developed by the PB Monitoring Committee. These tenant reps and leaders were involved in Participatory Budget over the last several years.
This whole outreach began because the TCHC Board of Directors put the Participatory Budget process on hold for 2017 so that a new process can be created. Previously these decisions were made by the Tenant Councils. Technically, that means that the delegate option is the only "new" option. Otherwise, the board could decide to cancel PB for another year, or permanently, until a delegate system of community engagement is created.
Within these meetings it became obvious early on that there was a division between Tenant Reps and other tenants (the self appointed community delegates).. It led up to an outburst from one Tenant Rep during the fourth session talking about tenants that "Bitch" and complain but never do anything to improve their communities. Therefore, as a Tenant Rep she feels that decisions about PB should continue to only be at the discretion of the Tenant Councils. Sounds a tad bit territorial to me.
At one point during the first session the facilitator indicated that - "Sometimes things shouldn't be complicated."
Yeah, right. We're talking about TCHC here. There is an option that the two original processes can include "Once every three years, ... all communities receive funding for projects instead of tenants deciding." Honestly, if communities have not had funding in year one and two then they should have a priority on funding in year three. An automatic payout in year three seems like overkill. That will still lead to inequities in how the funding is distributed. Some communities will get money in all three years and some will only get money in year three.
Oh did I forget to mention that TCHC is reconsidering the whole Tenant Rep/Council form of community engagement which could potentially invalidate this whole process? I'm not really concerned though. I opted for the delegate option. :D
Another piece of the Participatory Budget that needs to be looked into is the vendor's side. Maybe as I suggested during the first session TCHC should seek new vendors to add to their approved vendors list. Eliminate the potential for cost overruns. Given that the items communities will be voting on, or for, in the new process will be prefab, store bought, it shouldn't be that much of a stretch for TCHC to create a catalogue. The sections could break down as follows. - Indoor Furniture, Outdoor Furniture, Exercise Equipment, Electronics and Miscellaneous..
So, maybe it's not so much that I'm wrong. It's just that nobody at TCHC retired and made me boss.
I was not going to do this. I was just going to let me tweets stand as my opinion on the matter. But after reading what Sue-Ann Levy wrote about the TCHC Board of Director's meeting that took place the day before yesterday I feel I don't have a choice. Maybe she was watching on line at home. As I was. Maybe her audio was breaking up more than mine was. One can only hope. Because, otherwise, she glossed over some pretty important details.
Anyway, here 's a link to her warm and fuzzies about the subject matter at hand - TCHC board eyes vacancy and arrears problems.
Nowhere in her article does it mention that they can't even separate out the different categories of arrears. It's confusing to have the rent and parking arrears bundled together. Admittedly, they would have different degrees of consequences. Has TCHC not heard of pre-authorized payments? Or for those tenants on social assistance (over 75% of the TCHC population) pay direct? Why is this even an issue? With the pay direct option TCHC could effectively collect rents directly from Ontario (Never) Works and Ontario (Diss)Ability Support Program without it ever having been in the tenants bank account to begin with. Thereby preventing arrears from ever happening in the first place.
The most shocking (but subdued) debate involved proposed updates to the Boards Conflict of Interest policy. The member presenting the report acknowledged that the policy hasn't been updated since 2003 and "was seriously out of date". She suggested that the board members Conflict of Interest policy be on par with the general TCHC staff policy. Thereby no board member can receive gifts, meals, or donations.
Sounds pretty straight forward.
Not so fast. One male member piped up ("male member" lol) that just because someone buys him a meal doesn't mean he'll be swayed to vote in their favor. Then he goes on to say that "timely" disclosure may be more important. (Now if you took the time to read Sue Ann Levy's blurb you'd see that even she takes issue with TCHC doing ANYTHING in a "timely" manner.)
It had to be explained to him that this would be "an early warning policy", "you can't be making the decision", and that it's intent is "not to police you. It's to protect you" [and TCHC from the appearance of impropriety}.
Then from across the table comes a response. That maybe this should be principles based not rules based. We have all seen how well TCHC performs if there is no clear line drawn in the sand.
Back to that "male member" for a moment. Within the framework of downplaying the importance of the Conflict of Interest policy review, he mentioned that he sits on other Boards and Committees where he has signed a non-disclosure agreement. Maybe that's something you should have kept to yourself. Just sayin' ...
I don't know about you, but that raises a red flag for me. I want TCHC to be more transparent in it's dealings. After all they are dealing with millions upon millions of tax payers dollars. So to me, someone who signs non-disclosure agreements on the regular seems ill equipped to be serving on a quote unquote public board.
Continuing on in this discussion of public versus private. It is a fact that Toronto Community Housing Corporation has previously taken a run at acquiring charitable status from the Canada Revenue Agency. Of course they were denied donee status (Something that Sue Ann Levy would have picked up on if she scanned the documents that were provided for the meeting.) That taken in connection with a comment made at the Board of Directors meeting about holding an Annual General Meeting (which was described by a board member as a legal requirement) in the future should scare the daylights out of everyone. Especially., when you consider the complete lack of transparency when it comes to public money. Imagine how badly TCHC could misuse private donations.
Maybe I'm a bit of an alarmist. But, I would rather be ringing the alarm than playing dead. This time I think Sue Ann Levy did exactly that. (Could someone please check for a pulse?) Otherwise, there is no way that someone with the reputation of "getting the story behind the story" could have witnessed, in person or via live stream, that exact same TCHC Board of Directors meeting without raising some serious questions. Maybe next time she can use my Twitter feed as a source of information. Otherwise, I would be concerned, if I was her, about plagiarizing from some board members notes.
(Originally published to Fresh Print Magazine on July 6, 2015)
After attending the consultation on June 24th, 2015 that was designated an exclusive event for elected TCHC (Toronto Community Housing Corporation) tenant reps there seems to be a number of outstanding issues according to the summary of what has come out of the wide spread community consultations. Beginning with what the Mayor’s Task Force claims residents have stated TCHC is ‘Doing Well” in managing a portfolio of over 2,200 properties (that includes high rises, low rises, town houses, and scattered homes).
First on the slideshow list was “providing affordable housing”. One thing you may notice is that it doesn’t say that TCHC is providing “safe” and affordable housing. Maybe the fear and apathy among TCHC residents regarding criminal activity is the true cost of living in subsidized housing. In Toronto, the average rent (according to a survey done by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation in 2014) for a one bedroom is $899.00. For a similarly sized subsidized unit in Toronto an individual can expect to pay as little as $140. So what’s the average market rent cost compared to ignoring a little drug dealing or prostitution next door? … Who’s the whore?
By now you are probably asking yourself about TCHC’s security personnel. Well they would be doing triage in a community with a much bigger problem than yours without the necessary training, resources, or powers.
The second problem with the statement that TCHC was doing well at “providing affordable housing” was the waiting list. They would want you to believe that they are within acceptable limits of housing all the people that are on their subsidized waiting list within a reasonable amount of time. The most recent stats indicate there are over 90 thousand individuals and families who can expect to wait a minimum of five years. Forgive me but that doesn’t seem like they are even remotely capable of meeting the demand for affordable housing in Toronto.
The next item listed under the “Doing Well” category was the “call center”. Based on personal experience satisfaction with call center operations is a concept that is in constant flux. Besides, how can you claim that a call center is meeting it’s customer satisfaction quota if clearly two thirds, or more, of callers complaints are being ignored?
That two thirds guesstimate is based on the admission at a recent Operational Assessment Meeting open to residents that stated many calls to security are ignored unless there are three calls regarding the same incident. When you also take into consideration that the call center is working with outdated technology that two-thirds estimate begins to look a lot more like an unattainable goal.
Next to appear on the slideshow list under “Doing Well” was (try not to laugh) “good strategic planning”. The very nature of good strategic planning would preclude the need for a Mayor’s Task Force on TCHC would it not? Just sayin’.
Let’s not forget the inclusion of “some hard-working committed staff”. Are we seriously going to pat them on the back for doing their jobs? Admittedly, there are those staff members that go above and beyond every single day. Those individuals deserve our praise.
There are others that need to develop the mindset of ” but for the grace of God go I”. Coming from someone that’s not a religious person, by any means, that’s a significant statement. As a volunteer tenant leader trying to coordinate funding and development projects for my area I don’t want to hear from staff members how they are looking forward to their retirement or how they are dissatisfied with their job. Especially when it’s the same staff member making both statements. May I suggest early retirement? I’m sure there is someone out there who would appreciate your job with its introductory salary of around forty dollars an hour.
Approaching the end of the slideshow list under “Doing Well” was the State of Good Repair and the Closing the Gap initiatives. Beginning with the State of Good Repair campaign where TCHC created a mass sign up for residents to report any repairs that needed to be completed within their units. There was a steady stream of horror stories of projects being started then taking months to complete. One day a contractor would come to their unit to scrape the walls for plastering and painting. Then, on some occasions, months later, the resident would have to call TCHC’s maintenance line in order to get the painting and plastering completed. Never mind the nightmarish stories of incomplete kitchen and bathroom renovations.
Now the Closing the (Housing) Gap campaign isn’t “Doing Well” either. Basically, this involves TCHC hoping that the provincial and federal governments pony up 864 million each to cover the cost of capital repairs on housing stock that is, on average, forty two years old. “Doing Well” for any “Corporation” does not entail a subsidy of two thirds just to get its original stock into acceptable condition in order for it to become a marketable asset.
The final item on the Mayor’s Task Force on TCHC was “having tenant representatives [including] tenant reps on the TCHC Board of Directors”. It is a firmly held belief that if the TCHC was doing well with respect to tenant representation particularly at the Board level we would have equal representation. Meaning tenants would hold half of the TCHC Board of Directors seats as well as a co-chair position. It was reported at the Mayor’s Task Force on TCHC for Tenant Representatives that the two tenant reps currently seated on the twelve member board get railroaded during the decision making/voting process.
During the review on what TCHC appears to be doing well an audience member mentioned TCHC’s efforts at accommodating people with accessibility issues. Again that is another item that is open to interpretation. There are buildings within the TCHC portfolio that are not wheelchair accessible. Some are completely inaccessible. Whereas others are only accessible through the garbage room at the back of the building.
The Mayor’s Task Force on TCHC is trying to sell you (or rent you) a heavily subsidized version of propaganda about what TCHC is “Doing Well”. Doing well really should mean that those individual instances of greatness are common occurrences. It should also mean that there is an increase in the number of satisfied staff or tenants.
Mind you any significant change in work or living conditions within the TCHC community would only take place if the issues raised in the slide referring to “What Is TCHC Not Doing Well?” are adequately addressed. That I will leave for another day.
The other day I was supposed to go to my advocacy mentors retirement party that started at five. Shortly after three o'clock I received a twitter message from someone at CBC News requesting a meet up in the next hour to discuss Toronto Community Housing's interim CEO Greg Spearn stepping down.
That led to an immediate change in plans. I contacted the peeps organizing the retirement party, sent my regrets, and a GIANT thank you to my mentor, I know that without her support in the past I never would have felt safe enough to voice my opinion about anything. Never mind taking the opportunity to be the lead story on CBC News at six o'clock.
In those few hours I went through many different scenarios in my head as to how they wanted me to answer some key questions. Once the camera crew arrived I ran through a few more scenarios. Then once the live segment started I realized I could zoom right in on one of my key Manifesto points. The interview began focusing on the reporter listing the defaults of several of the previous CEO's at TCH. That many people being disgraced in the same position speaks to the inadequacy of the position not the individual people.
So I led the CBC News at six o'clock Tuesday evening with the following quote""Maybe it shouldn't be just one person at the top handling the whole portfolio ,.. Maybe they should be dividing it up and making it more manageable, because I think (that), would hopefully, prevent some of the catastrophes that have been happening financially."
What did I mean by that?
Well, Toronto Community Housing is the largest social housing provider in Canada and second largest in North America. To put the management responsibility of such a huge diverse portfolio on any one individual is cruel. It's setting them up for failure.
So how about creating a team. Admittedly, the details of my following suggestion are going to sound far fetched at first. But. why not bring in tenants as co-board members. Give the tenants equal representation at the Board of Directors level. There is a built in suspicion between Toronto Community Housing tenants and board members. That would act as an automatic deterrent to allowing the other side to squander money. With equal representation of tenants versus outside interests at the board of directors level there is less likelihood of misspent funds. We certainly couldn't do any worse than what has happened in the past, still happens today and will continue to happen, if appropriate balancing mechanisms are not put in place.
In addition, I do still believe in abolishing the current tenant rep system. I believe we should have some type of tenant system that reports to the board on a quarterly basis from each sector of the city providing basic stats and developments within their specific geographic area. Admittedly, this reporting system would work best if TCH operating unit management staff were part of the equation. They have access to information that the tenants may not.
This would effectively eliminate the need for last ditch efforts to include tenant voices like the Tenant's First Advisory Panel which I still haven't heard a peep from. Have you?
Whether one, or both, of my ideas are even considered remains to be seen. But either way TCH needs to begin working collaboratively with it's tenants. The medieval system at Toronto Community Housing does not work. There has been enough blood letting. I'm tired of seeing the CEO's drained of pallor and of valor. It's time we give them a team It's time we bring the governance structure at Toronto Community Housing into the 21rst century. It's not about whose "First". It's about working together.
I had a very enlightening conversation the other day with a staffer at my city councilors office regarding TCH(C). He indicated that the level of noise we experience in my building, on my floor in particular, is "normal for a welfare building."
At first I took offense at the description of my building as a "welfare building". So I fired off an email to the offender stating the following - "In order to move ahead we all need to get beyond the notion of thinking of TCH as "welfare" housing. Especially with the mixed income developments that are currently under construction."
This morning I got around to dealing with the comment indicating that what I am experiencing is "normal".
"In our phone conversation the other day on top of other things you indicated that the noise level on this floor is normal for a TCH(C) building. It doesn't take Pavlov, a bell, and a hungry dog to know that the more you normalize abnormal behavior, the more abnormal behavior occurs.
TCH(C) is not a mental health facility with the capabilities of dealing effectively with periodic outbursts. Nor is it a halfway house where those that have been court ordered not to associate with other criminals are properly supervised. TCH(C) is a landlord. End of story. Full stop.
If I exhibited any of the anti-social or criminal behaviors of my most troublesome neighbors how quick do you think my eviction papers would be drawn up?"
The bigger question, that should be in the back of everyone's mind, is does this type of thinking about TCH(C) tenants, buildings, and/or communities act as an excuse, an authorization, or both?
This is a very personal project. I have lived in Toronto Community Housing for the last thirty years. I have been able to take advantage of many opportunities in large part because I didn't have to flip a coin between paying the rent and putting food on the table. I am grateful for this experience. In all likelihood that's not exactly a claim that many people living in Toronto Community Housing would make.
Since I have moved into subsidized housing I have raised my two children, They are now grown and raising my grandchildren outside of TCH. When I arrived I had a single grade nine credit. Now I have a B.A from the University of Toronto and a certificate in Human RIghts from OISE. As you can tell from this website I have explored my creative potential through poetry, and photography. In addition, I have been involved in some advocacy work around poverty, homelessness, and food security,
By no means have I been slacking on my advocacy closer to home. It took a while to introduce the inner advocate to my neighbors. Now they know. I made a successful bid at the Participatory Budget Meeting a few years ago. That resulted in my community receiving $200,000 (final cost). That is definitely equal to the lions share of an annual budget of $260,000 to be split between at least ten communities. Then the year before last I took the lead on writing a grant proposal (and almost lost my mind in the process) to the Partnerships Opportunities Legacy Fund which resulted in a further $450,000 for my community. That amount was the highest granted in our area - despite not meeting the "partnership" requirement..
Why am I bothering to tell you this? When an opportunity came up to apply to the Tenants First Advisory Panel I jumped at the chance. The requirements were:
From the discussion at the Information Session at City Hall the Mayor now wants TCH tenant input on the implementation of the five "transformative ideas" listed in the Transformative Change for TCHC report. As someone with an appreciation of the opportunities a Toronto Community Housing tenant can take advantage of, someone with an ability to translate issues into words or images that people understand, and a proven ability to attract funding for my TCH community I thought I would be a shoe in.
Well ... not so much.
Pride goeth before the fall. At least I have something to fall back on. As part of the application process I submitted comments related to the "transformative ideas" outlined in the Mayor's Task Force's "Transformative Changes for TCHC" report. It will provide an excellent baseline for this document.
Welcome to Toronto Community Housing. Hope lives here.
The first "transformative" idea listed in the final report from the Mayor's Task Force on TCH(C) is to "(t)ransition to a new community-based non-profit housing corporation."
This option is not something that should be given serious consideration knowing that additional revenues are based on the fact that they would “probably be able to increase borrowing capacity.” Most people in the room at the Tenants First Advisory Panel information session were wondering how much more that might mean for Toronto Community Housing. One gentleman in the group asked if it could be billions of dollars expected as a result of distancing Toronto Community Housing from the city coffers.
My only question (which I yelled out during that session) was “How are we going to pay it back?”
That was spoken from the perspective of someone who has recently received a copy of their Certificate/Order of Discharge for personal bankruptcy. It's fiscally irresponsible to borrow money without any method or means of settling our debts. I have learned my lesson. Toronto Community Housing, nor it's tenants, can afford to learn this lesson the hard way.
I'm surprised, that as an accountant by a profession, the former mayor, Art Eggleton, didn't red flag this idea,
The second "transformative" idea was to "[c]reate mixed-income communities."
This is a great idea in theory. Personally, I don't believe that the 70-30% (R.G.I [Rent Geared to Income] to non R.G.I.) goes far enough. It should be more of an equal representation between R.G.I and non R.G.I. tenants. It should also be considered in the context of the larger national affordable housing strategy. This strategy should include the proposed development of abandoned properties and the ideas around setting aside a percentage of units constructed by private or non profit entities for R.G.I. tenants.
If Mayor Tory was serious about creating mixed income communities there needs to be a focus on "community building" not just the construction of new units. The Regent Park rejuvenation project is already 108 million in the hole and nowhere near completion. Part of the reason is because of "delays in timing of sales of market housing resulted in [SURPRISE!!!] delays in the social housing redevelopment." (Torontoist - Why Regent Park's Revitalization Needs !108 Million More to Keep Going - February 6th, 2017)
The main reason people are likely hesitating with making purchases of units in that area are quite clear. The Toronto Community Housing tenants that were in that area before have first pick at returning to the same size unit they had when they left ... Subsidized of course. So what guarantees do the purchasers have that the same criminal elements won't be returning? None. What powers do the new owners have when they do return? None.
You can flush billions of dollars down that hole. All you will be doing is making it more appealing for the criminal element to crawl back into.
There needs to be some significant structural/systemic change. I believe that we should start at the top. The TCH Board of Directors should have equal representation of TCH tenants, citizen members (that could include property owners), and city councilor members.
Currently, the board consists of twelve members only two of whom are tenants. So, technically, that means that only two people on that board have lived experience. That's not even remotely empowering to the 164 000 Toronto Community Housing tenants. If, TCH tenants don't have any real say at the Board with only two members, how are the new owners going to feel with no say with no members on Board?
Unfortunately, equal representation at the Board level is not listed among the recommendations. Instead, Recommendation 4 of the TCH Task Force Final Report indicated that the "Corporate Board of Directors of TCHC/NewHome, should be reduced to 7-9 citizen members and should be more appropriately compensated for their commitment and adequately supported." Sounds a tad backwards to me,
Technically, there would have been no need to appoint TCH(C) tenants to become members of the Tenants First Advisory Panel if the Board of Directors had equal representation. It also would have had a much longer and more effective mandate. Based on information gathered online the Tenants First Advisory Panel is meeting for 7 - 10 times over the next year. Honestly, this is the Tenants Last Advisory Panel. They just wanna find out from us how best to stuff their ideas down our throats without us spewing it all back at them. Just sayin'.
The third item on the list for Transformative Change for TCHC was "[b]etter buildings and more of them".
If, by better buildings, the City of Toronto means the same thing as it does when it is referring to its own Better Buildings Partnership. " A City of Toronto initiative that works with building owners, managers and builders to ensure that buildings achieve high energy performance and low environmental impact. We provide knowledge, resources and financial assistance to maximize the outcomes of a wide range of energy efficiency projects." I'm all in!
On the one hand, there is only an honorable mention for decreasing Toronto Community Housing's ecological foot print. Yet, unbeknownst to outsiders there needs to be a back to basics approach to TCH(C)'s environmental impact. Superintendents have been threatened with fines if their buildings don't increase the recycled materials weight and decrease the trash weight that the recycling/garbage trucks pick up.
TCH(C) staff, tenant reps, and a large majority of residents simply can't be bothered to recycled. In some cases, it's a distance issue. The garbage room on each floor is closer than the recycling bin at the outside edge of the parking lot.. In others, it's an accessibility issue. They can't be expected to pitch their recycling into a dumpster that is six feet high from a wheel chair/scooter or as they are leaning on their walker.
As far as I'm concerned Toronto Community Housing should be leading the city in waste diversion.
On the other hand, the report is very detailed when they describe wanting the ability to put more sardines (intensification on some sites) into more cans (through rejuvenation projects) on the same size of platter (lot size). In addition, they want the ability to have preferential consideration when it comes to the sale of surplus public land. Sprinkle on some capital grants, low or zero interest loans, tax/fee waivers, and debt guarantees. For dessert, they even want to have final say (never mind the "review opportunities" phrasing) when it comes to which units are renovated, demolished, replaced, or sold.
If individuals, businesses, organizations, and governments are being asked to invest in the future of TCH(C) then there needs to be a broader focus. Not only should they work on constructing "better buildings" they should also work on "community development" (below) and make a sincere effort at "tenant engagement" (next section).
For now, it's still called Toronto “Community” Housing. The first step in developing a healthy community is getting rid of the riff raff. Nobody wants to live next door to a drug dealer.
Housing has been declared a human right. Subsidized housing should be considered a privilege. The City of Toronto has gone above and beyond by providing persons with a subsidized unit. If it is proven that they have abuse that privilege then they are entitled to seek a market rental unit somewhere outside of Toronto Community Housing. It's not TCH's, or the Mayor's, responsibility to make sure serial criminals have a roof over their heads. Here's your eviction notice. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. End of story.
Unfortunately, it's not that simple. We'll discuss why in the next section.
Hi! My name is Cheryl. All of my work is inspired by my senses. Sometimes my sixth sense comes into play. At other times I'll inject a healthy dose of common sense.