I seem to have acquired a habit of tweeting a stream of consciousness thoughts when I least expect it. This is often how I determine whether or not I have enough for an article. Here's a glimpse at my process.
Everyone has heard the expression “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.' Well, I believe that TCHC should be more proactive than reactive in many ways - including looking toward a time when OCHE is no longer necessary. How could that happen?
May I suggest that TCHC start working together with other housing providers and government services to make on going pay direct mandatory for all people on OW, ODSP as well as people on OAS and CPP. By pay direct I mean that the money is transferred straight from a tenants income support to TCHC. This method completely bi-passes the tenant and goes straight into TCHC coffers.
This was originally an idea I planted in my Tenants Manifesto on The Final Report of The Mayors Task Force on TCHC with respect to tenants on OW and ODSP where I know for a fact that pay direct is currently an option.
Now I understand that OCHE's existence is because of concern over seniors being evicted and dying in our stairwells. Maybe more of a long term strategy would be coordinating efforts with other social housing providers across the province (or even the country) to ensure that pay direct is mandatory for seniors on pensions.
OCHE’s mandate [as described online] is quote “eviction prevention for senior and vulnerable tenants living in Toronto Community Housing (TCHC) who have arrears (unpaid rent). We also provide TCHC with recommendations when a senior or vulnerable tenant has lost their rental subsidy.” unquote
I'm suggesting that their mandate include advocating for systemic changes that prevents the possibility of arrears from occurring in the first place. Not only should they be advocating for ways to simplify the annual verification of income review forms, but, they should also be advocating for mandatory pay direct for every tenant on any type of financial assistance.
In the last paragraph on page 5 of the CEO's report it mentions “developing a tenant survey to identify the preferred engagement model” with respect to the tenant engagement system refresh. I spoke in a flurry of words at my “Show and Tell” presentation to the Board back in April about my recommendations if TCHC decided to proceed with a new tenant engagement model. I won't reiterate the complete list of ten items but I will highlight three to make clear my current reasoning for instating such guidelines.
The first item I wish to highlight is number 3) TCHC tenant reps [councils] should have monthly meetings with the tenants they supposedly represent. When the tenant rep for my building recently announced that she had applied for a $24,000 “Social Club” grant even our Community Services Coordinator looked a little stunned. As a tenant I believe strongly in the concept of financial transparency even if the very notion of it makes this board cringe. How can any tenant rep apply for money without first informing their community of the opportunity and the reason for that request?
Now we will jump ahead to number 7) TCHC staff need to be trained to support those of us who are actually willing to go above and beyond for our communities. Furthermore TCHC staff need to give credit where credit is due. Over this past weekend it was brought to key people's attention at TCHC that there are astounding similarities between the proposed changes to a No Smoking Policy for TCHC tenants as announced in the Toronto Star last Friday and an article I posted to my website last month! The Toronto Star article reads in part - “In the future new units will be smoke free” then it continued on to say that “Tenants with existing leases would have the option of signing a new lease that included a smoke-free clause.” That sounds remarkably similar to my statement - “It's never too late to include a no smoking clause in the lease of incoming tenants. It's never too late to ask current tenants to commit to keeping their units smoke free.” In such incidents when responding to previous oversights maybe the response should be thank you for your input. Not - “Thank you for your feedback.” It was my idea after all.
Finally, we will discuss suggestion number 9) TCHC should define in greater detail what it takes for a tenant rep to be removed from their position and replacement procedures. Both within their communities and at Board level. I understand that one of the new tenant board members was considering using her time on the TCHC Board of Directors as a stepping stone to a career in politics. Myself and several other enraged/”engaged” tenants can not comprehend how her tippy toes barely touch the lily pad as she leaps right over TCHC tenants concerns and her responsibilities to this Board into the political swampland.
Amanda, if you don't have the courage to represent TCHC tenants, then gives us the courtesy of vacating the seat so that we can find someone who WILL.
I am here today to tell you what is missing from the 2019-2022 Strategic Plan.
The first item on my list is accessibility. As I have outlined in an email to Cathy Birch that the goal of R-PATH should be to phase itself out of existence.
In my opinion, one of R-PATHs mandates should be to decrease, then eliminate, the need for funding at some point in the future because they have successfully advocated for accessibility features to be automatically built in to all future projects.
I believe that TCHC should be building all residential, recreational, commercial, and office spaces to the universally accessible design standards. (In 2016 Daniels Corporation was actually offering these design upgrades for free.)
I think that this would add a level of convenience to even able-bodied tenants. In the same manner that curb cuts have not only benefited those with accessibility issues but also parents pushing strollers and people pulling bundle buggies.
In addition, I believe a targeted approach to spending that 17.4 million dollar R-PATH budget would greatly improve accessibility across the portfolio.
The next item I believe needs to be mentioned is recycling. This is another area where I believe TCHC needs to be more proactive.
Once upon a time when I used to work as a security guard in condominiums across the city I noticed that recycling bins were located in ground floor garbage rooms. Tenants didn't have to walk outside to the far end of the parking lot to recycle.
An accessible option for recycling could be to install parallel chutes alongside garbage chutes for paper and plastic recyclable materials.
Otherwise, I think it would be a great idea to encourage some form of friendly competition between communities to see which community could reduce their ecological footprint the most. (With a plaque or trophy presented annually to the winning community.)
The final area that I believe needs to be improved is actually mentioned in TCHC's Strategic Plan for 2019-2022. But without the specifications that I know are mandatory if Toronto Community Housing does want as Goal #5 states - Tenants [to] feel safe in their communities. TCHC is justifiably concerned about this big threat of “violent incidents”. I firmly believe, however, that there are precursors to many of those events that could be better managed through an anti-bullying/anti-harassment policy. I understand through recent communications with TCHC staffers that there is an effort at the moment to develop a Vulnerable Tenant's Strategy. I'm going on the record now to state clearly that as this initiative moves forward a new Anti-Harassment Policy that applies to tenants and staff should be a key piece of this action plan.
I would go even further and argue that being successful at Goal #5 (with the Anti-Harassment Policy in place) can greatly impact TCHC's ability to achieve both Goal #6 - Tenancies are well managed with a focus on supporting vulnerable tenants to have successful tenancies and Goal #7 - Tenants are engaged in activities that influence their quality of life
Once again, from my perspective as a TCHC tenant, I believe that these initiatives need to be implemented as soon as possible. I would be happy to work with TCHC on any and all of the initiatives that I have discussed here today.
Thank you for your time.
Where to start? I'm just going to jump right in. The minute that the names of the two new tenant directors at TCHC were officially released I started doing some research. Nothing heavy. Everything was available online. I started with Amanda Coombs LinkedIn account.
The first thought that came to my mind when I saw her profile was 'if she is doing such great work in the community why does she only have 7 connections?' Yup, that's right … Just seven.
Come on now. I'm definitely not everyone's favourite person and I currently have 305 connections on LinkedIn.
K … Maybe the first impression isn't very impressive. So I began to research her qualifications beginning with her education. On her LinkedIn page it indicates that she has been working on her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from 2011 - 2018. That's seven years already.
The York University website states - "This program is well-suited for students wishing to complete a 3-year university degree and then begin a career or pursue a college diploma following graduation."
Then on her information page on TCHC's website it states that she is still attending York University for that very same degree.
How much longer is that going to take her? No judgements. Just a statement of fact that maybe she doesn't really have the time (or attributes) necessary to devote to the tasks that are mandatory for TCHC Board related matters.
I scanned the rest of her LinkedIn resume. Under Volunteer Experience she put Recreational Assistant at CAMH from August 2017 - August 2017. That's right. One month of volunteer experience. Honestly, I would be ashamed to put something that microscopic on my resume. I may have had naps longer than the total amount of time she has volunteered.
At this point I am searching in vain for an explanation as to why she would have been a preferred candidate for a tenant seat on the TCHC Board of Directors. Then I saw it.
She has eleven certifications! Sounds amazing. Looks amazing on her LinkedIn page. Until you realize that the majority of those certifications can be received for work completed in less time than it has taken me to research and write this article.
CPI Nonviolent Crisis Intervention
Two-Day Foundation Course
TRX FUNCTIONAL TRAINING COURSE
Conflict Resolution & Training
Maximum 6 days
Emergency First Aid CPR/AED Level C
no longer available but likely under the 5 hours required for CPR/AED Level C
Provisional MHFA Canada Youth Instructor
Engaging and Empowering. How to become an Effective Mentor for Vulnerable Youth
30 hours (3 hours a week for 10 weeks)
Crisis Intervention Training
Food Handler Training Certificate
Mental Health First Aid
Fitness Instructor Specialist
I have been sitting on this information since May 28th, 2018. I really wanted to give Amanda Coombs the benefit of the doubt. It is only a few months into her term and she is already on a leave of absence.
Oddly enough, I don't blame her.
I blame everyone that played a role in her appointment to the TCHC Board of Directors. I also blame TCHC for not having a satisfactory mechanism in place for tenants to elect appropriately qualified individuals to represent us in those two token seats. Finally, I blame the City of Toronto (as Toronto Community Housing's sole shareholder) for not doing its due diligence.
The above image was taken at the International Taste Buds event held this past weekend by and for the TCHC tenants at 2180/2190 Ellesmere Road Scarborough.
TCHC has become a city-centric organization which is a far cry from it's claim of being tenant-centric. There are twice as many city councillors as tenants on the board of directors. As if that alone isn't enough of an indication of the corporations actual direction the city chose the people to become part of their elite Tenants Last [I mean Tenants First] initiative. Then more recently the City of Toronto decided who the two new tenant board members would be.
So, why is this important? ... Well it has to do with Toronto Community Housing's Fire Life Safety Plan.
On TCHC's own website it claims they are wholly owned by the City of Toronto. So if that's the case why are TCHC buildings exempt from the no smoking policies that apply to all other government buildings?
Especially when it is taken into consideration with the fact that it has been raised at previous Board meetings that smoking is the second largest contributor to fires on TCHC properties.
It's never too late to include a no smoking clause in the lease of incoming tenants. It's never too late to ask current tenants to commit to keeping their units smoke free.
If TCHC were a truly tenant-centric organization they would have already identified the increased risks of fire associated with the tenant population which has a higher percentage of people with disabilities and seniors than market rent buildings elsewhere.
Also there definitely needs to be an assessment regarding the increased risks of fires with those that smoke while having oxygen tanks in their units and those with a propensity for hoarding. Both these conditions are at an increased risk as people age. This is a glaringly obvious issue that one could only hope the newly designated seniors division will be taking into consideration when determining what type of services they are offering the tenants in seniors buildings.
Then we need to keep in mind the fact that way too many fires happen as people flick their cigarette butts off their balconies and into dumpsters. Are those fires included in the stats? ... Or is it just those that occur inside TCHC buildings?
As it is, I currently have duct tape over both the vents in my unit (the one in my kitchen above the stove and the one in my bathroom above my toilet) Mind you that's not just to keep out smoke. It keeps out the creepy crawlies too.
Anyways, back to the issue at hand, if I could ever figure out how to pull off a class action lawsuit against TCHC my first attempt would be related to issues regarding exposure to second hand smoke.
If Toronto Community Housing Corporation is city-centric then their mandate is clearly governed by the city of Toronto's no smoking policy. If this is a tenant-centric organization then I encourage them to consult with tenants regarding the implementation of a no smoking policy.
It seems like a much more realistic and practical approach than having June designated as Fire Safety Awareness Month by TCHC and Toronto Fire Services. If, as CEO Kathy Milsom recently indicated, TCHC truly wanted to change the behaviours of tenants related to any fire life safety plan then maybe they should start with changing the rules. No more of this blowing smoke up everyone's ass.
Based on TCHC's Tenant Priority Transfer Consultation that occurred on May 17th, 2018 there are many recommendations that they will hopefully consider before moving forward. This list includes items that should happen before, during, and after such transfers in order for this to be a successful program within Toronto Community Housing.
First of all, even Graham Leah (Vice President of Asset Management at TCHC) agrees that the first step that needs to be taken is to audit the current priority wait lists. He is fully aware that many of those people on the list have moved on - whether just to another physical location or to the After Life. Both of which should have automatically led to their removal from the priority transfer lists as they are currently defined.
During this new process Toronto Community Housing has indicated that they will have one dedicated staff member to handle the Crisis Priority Transfer process from beginning to end.
From my perspective that raises a couple of questions. Number one how does TCHC plan on training the necessary number of staff appropriately? There obviously needs to be some level of competency. The consequences are significantly different from some of the incidents of incompetence I have encountered in TCHC staff. Not being able to assist in a grant writing process is small potatoes compared to not being about to deal with a individual or family in crisis.
These staff members will be dealing with individuals/families that happen to have either experienced a traumatic/violent incident or someone who is experiencing severe restrictions due to a disability. TCHC's timeline indicates that once they hire additional staff there will be one month of training. Is that enough time to make sure that these staff are provided with sensitivity training for both Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and/or sensitivity training to persons with disabilities?
If, during the application process there becomes a conflict between the tenant and the TCHC Crisis Priority Transfer staff member that has been assigned to them, is there a detailed Conflict Resolution Process that will be made available to the tenant?
Ideally, once a tenant has been approved for the Crisis Priority Transfer List TCHC is going to look at a tenant needs. Then based on those needs TCHC will identify then offer the tenant two or three units. If the tenant does not approve of any of those units they are immediately removed from the list. When you get down to it that makes sense. The idea of a tenant applying to the Crisis Priority List should be based on NEED not want. No longer will tenants be able to hold out for their favourite location which just so happens to have the lowest turnover rate in the TCHC portfolio. Nor will they be able to decline five or six offers of available units.
If all else fails, and someone has been declined a transfer, is there going to be an appeals process? What might that look like? Or is that something else that the City of Toronto will insist on shaping as they have with both the Tenants First panel and the appointment of the two new tenant members to the TCHC Board of Directors?
Finally, is there going to be a survey that tenants can fill out once their Crisis Priority Transfer is complete and they have finally started unpacking in their new home? In the interest of being “tenant-centric” maybe it would be best for TCHC to document any concerns that tenants may have about their experiences as this new process rolls out.
This would allow TCHC the opportunity to make modifications to the program in a timely manner that would reduce the amount of additional stress that could have devastating consequences for those that already self-identify as being in Crisis.
Originally published to my Hope Still Lives Here page on Instagram
This was part of an email I sent to a TCHC staffer - "I'm kind of hesitant to draw attention to todays issues because theoretically I got what I wanted. A splash pad for Gilder. Unfortunately as the attached photos show its not exactly in an ideal location. LOL Welcome to the Gilder splash/garden"
Now the email I got back stated that my "sarcasm wasn't appreciated", that I was "bitter" and claimed someone else gave her "accurate information" indicating that I had somehow or other provided "inaccurate information".
(My #PhotosDontLie I have several other angles of this garden turned wading pool.)
These are just some of the things that TCHC employees will say in order to take away from a tenants accomplishments within their community. I was the lead on that Partnership Opportunities Legacy Fund grant application that was originally supposed to include extensive upgrades to the community garden and a splash pad.
I'm still waiting to see invoices for this project to the tune of $460 000. It's not my fault that any upgrades to this project that has already been signed off on as complete has to come from accessibility funding at TCHC.
For GAWD sake stop projecting your inability to find the truth onto me - when it's an in-house issue. When I have to correct your assumptions the first day you're on site about where the money came from for this community development project, when you claim a door was accessible when it wasn't, and when other TCHC staffers claim to have written documentation about the project development process but don't - you are pointing your fingers in the wrong direction. I know that no one at TCHC wants to be acccountable to a TCHC tenant to the tune of $460 000. Well maybe you shouldn't have used me to line your pockets. #JustSayin #ShowMeTheMoney #TCH #TCHC #TOhousing #TorontoHousing #TorontoCommunityHousing
#FYI I ain't bitter. You need to grow a sense of humour. For the record, "Bitter" would have thrown in the towel a long time ago. There is a reason I call this page #HopeStillLivesHere
Wait for it. You are NOT going to believe this. So I was just doing a casual stroll of a TCHC property where a fellow anti-poverty advocate lives on the Saturday of Easter weekend. This BMW really stood out. This is top of the line wheels. (Blue Book value of at least $25,000)
Immediately my thoughts started racing. This is a long weekend. Friday was a holiday. I couldn't see TCHC staff leaving wheels like this in one of our parking lots over night. That would be begging for trouble.
Speaking of trouble, whenever I see a high end car in a TCHC parking lot over night I automatically think that the owner has a criminal record and undeclared income of some type. (Honestly, if they have THAT much money shouldn't they be in a market rent unit somewhere?) The only other wheels near that spot was a bike (with a milk crate for a trunk and plastic bag to keep the drivers seat dry) chained to a tree.
Then I notice the vanity plate. "5CARLO" No way! This can't be. That's not possible. He's not that arrogant.
I asked my friend if this car belonged to our not so esteemed off again/on again tenant representative on the Board of Directors of TCHC Robert Carlo.
She answered in the affirmative.
WOW ... I was speechless. (Trust me that doesn't happen very often)
I was thinking about all the community money or resources that I know my tenant rep has never been held accountable for. No matter who I reached out to for an audit it never happened. All my tenant rep is driving around in is a beat up minivan that she shares with her live-in boyfriend. (Is he on the lease yet? After thirty years one can only hope.)
Having an on again/off again status on the Board of Directors at TCHC is an exponentially higher rank than a lowly tenant rep. Would that not automatically mean that with rank comes privilege? How many perks has he received? (Are the rumours really true? Has he only allowed agencies or programming into his building if there was an upfront incentive for him to do so?)
Thankfully, March 31rst, 2018 was officially the end to all TCHC tenant reps terms . That is until Toronto Community Housing Corporation rolls out the new tenant engagement system.
My concern is what if some of these old school fraudsters already have plans in place to dominate whatever associations may be created in it's place? Will there by rolling community audits? Will there be an effort to enforce the TCHC employees Code of Conduct or the Board of Directors Conflict of Interest Policy?
Previously Tenant Reps were only obligated to hold monthly community update meetings with TCHC staff. Maybe now it is time to include equal accountability to the communities within which they live. No more of this one or twice a year general meeting crap.
Maybe now they will ensure that those representing our communities have minimal financial accounting training so that they can include accurate assessments of accounts for all groups, clubs or associations that they are currently operating.
How long ago was it that I initially asked for that training.? Oh yeah. When I made the decision that I didn't want to be cleaning up after the previous tenant rep. (Money in torn envelopes that had ineligible hand writing on them in plastic baggies stashed in a filing cabinet in the tenant reps apartment that was supposedly the previous years Garden Club money.)
Back to that BMW sitting in a TCHC parking lot ... You can't fault me if I honestly believe it is the result of a lot of ill-gotten gains. Maybe when they roll out the new tenant engagement system they will have measures in place to prevent tenant reps from exploiting their own communities. Maybe ...