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 ...
This started over some personal angst about not being approved yet for the TCHC media contact list and noticing that TCHC had the audacity to pull off a press conference in the hood just east of me. When I saw the clips on the evening news I noticed over the shoulders of the politicians that the exteriors of the townhouse units weren't finished.
Then up pops this post on Facebook with a selection of photos attached that reads in part- "The homes are part of Toronto Community Housing’s commitment to clean, safe homes for tenants." I just had to go see for myself.
On the one hand, I wasn't disappointed because I came home with pictures of exactly the opposite of a clean and safe neighbourhood. On the other, I was hugely disappointed because of what appears to be complete construction chaos.
A miniscule amount of knowledge about housing voucher programs in the US would have alerted the Social Planning Council of Toronto to the potential dangers associated with such an endeavour.
The number one thing I wanted to know as I listened to their speakers from places like the United Way, ISAC (the Income Security and Advocacy Center), and the ODSP Action Coalition.was how does the idea of a Portable Housing Benefit work together with the calls for commitments to Poverty Reduction Strategies and the Guaranteed Annual Income Pilot Program that has been rolled out in Hamilton, Lindsay, and Thunder Bay.
The truth is it doesn't.
The implementation of a Portable Housing Benefit would disempower individuals. It will prevent people from having any REAL choice while ensuring that the Social Planning Council and their member agencies still have a poor and unfortunate base to support. Without which it would be difficult for them to raise donation dollars, apply for grants, and supposedly earn their pay cheques.
On the other hand, giving money directly to those in need through an expanded Guaranteed Annual Income Program, would arguable be more empowering to the recipients and cost effective as the money goes directly to those in need. Thereby removing, the need for the overpaid middle men representing the charities and organizations that are profiting off the backs of the poor.
Overall, I was deeply disappointed with this forum. Especially considering that my three table mates appeared to have no clue what the proposed Portable Housing Benefit was all about.
That's disgraceful given that as I stated before the speeches even started ... "I'm the only one at this table that's not being paid to be here."
They have a similar set up in the U.S. According to Wikipedia "The Housing Choice Voucher Program provides "tenant-based" rental assistance, so a tenant can move from one unit of at least minimum housing quality to another." The phrase at 'least minimum housing quality' does not sound very homey to me.
Let's face it least minimum housing quality can slip pretty quickly into not housing quality in a hurry. The recent headlines of Toronto's Mayor Tory with his hand out to the provincial and federal governments for Capital Repairs in order to stop future closure of much needed subsidized units are an attestation to that fact.
Then there's the fact that the vouchers are only good for 30 days when many landlords (including TCHC) demands a tenant give 60 days notice.
Furthermore, there is the intrusiveness not only for those in need of a voucher, but, also for the landlords as the units need to be inspected to see if they actually meet the minimum standards.
Finally, there is the suburbanization of crime. Stats indicate that once housing vouchers are part of a communities rental economy there is incentive for undesirables to explore and expand into new territories.
Even if I was still all gung ho about the proposed Portable Housing Benefit, I would very much run the risk of ending up in a community that (from the outside) may look very different but would eventually inherit some, if not all, of the imperfections of my current neighbourhood.
That's not a risk I am willing to take. The evil that I know (and that knows me) is far better than the evil I don't.
On February 28th, 2018 a group of approximately fifty people gathered at Metro Hall for the Portable Housing Benefit Forum put on by the Social Planning Council of Toronto.
Basically, the proposed Portable Housing Benefit would allow individuals to take their subsidies into the private housing rental market. Toronto Community Housing would no longer be their only option.
I, myself, have often been frustrated enough by the bureaucracy within North America's second largest social housing provider that I have requested the government attach the subsidies to the individuals instead of the units. Then I would move out.
TCHC is not exactly a social environment. This place more often resembles of a cross between a three-quarter way house (the stop in between a halfway house and a return to jail) and an addiction non-treatment center. There are no guards or social workers present to monitor, document, or deal with any of the issues that arise.
So, it's only natural, that if you still have a few of your marbles left, you would want an exit strategy. A portable housing benefit seems like it could be the answer.
Hold up a second. Not so fast.
At the TCHC Board of Director's meeting last Friday the predominant topic of conversation was about the Ombudsperson's Report An Investigation Into Toronto Community Housing Corporations Medical and Safety at Risk Priority Transfer Process for Tenants. This was in large part due to the Ombudsperson herself showing up to depute a summary of findings to the Board. This event happened after the full report had been forwarded to City Hall and eventually made public.
Let's begin with a topic of discussion that is completely missing from the mainstream media's dialogue. According to the Ombudsman's Report An Investigation Into Toronto Community Housing Corporations Medical and Safety at Risk Priority Transfer Process for Tenants there are 1,413 approved households on the Medical and Safety at Risk priority list (1,069 Medical and 344 Safety at Risk.)
This report clearly indicates that a higher number of households are seeking transfers for medical reasons. Why is there absolutely no attempt to address their issues in this document? With many residents aging in place the accessibility of their home environments is going to continue to become an even greater issue. It is unrealistic to expect TCHC to rehouse them as their needs become more pronounced,
Toronto Community Housing should be looking at the least disruptive alternative of appropriate unit modifications that will increase a tenants ability to care of oneself and allow them to continue to be a contributing member of their own community. Assessing a tenants accessibility needs and providing the appropriate accommodations seems like something that could very well be facilitated during the annual review process. Thereby making that process truly tenant-centric. It goes without saying that this idea of unit modification would significantly decrease the bloat on the medical priority transfer list.
Another issue around the Medical and Safety at Risk Transfer Process was whether or not a tenants concerns about safety are valid. Even with all the accompanying documentation they needed to collect from Toronto Police Services (Did you realize that security reports aren't admissible for this process? Once again raising the question of why we have "special constables" in the first place.)
At the Board of Director's meeting the CEO Kathy Milsom questioned exactly how many units a household should be offered before they are either return to the bottom of, or removed from, the priority transfer list. Again the solution seems really simple. One strike, two strikes, three strikes and your back at the bottom, or off the transfer list (Not the priority one either.). According to TCHC's CEO there is one household that has been offered seven different locations. What are they waiting for? A beach front property with palm trees.
Finally, there was a comment made by Catherine Wilkinson decrying the fact that the Ombudsman's Office report goes straight to City Hall without TCHC Board of Director oversight/approval.
Well, I think we all need to be very careful about Board demands of full disclosure before any Ombudspersons report is forwarded to City Hall. Catherine Wilkinson initially mentioned concern with one other board member seconding her comments. As a tenant in TCHC I appreciate the fact that the Ombudsperson is an independent party who is answerable to City Hall and NOT TCHC's Board of Directors.
In this instance Catherine Wilkinson had a minor conflict a) with understanding the processes of the Ombudsperson's Office, b) with her roll as a "tenant rep" on the Board she should have let any questions regarding process fall to any of the other Board of Directors to mention, and c) as an avid promoter of OACH she knows that numbers are available regarding waitlists, as there are for evictions, but seems to have had tunnel vision during her tenure. I don't think she should have weighed in, or should I say began the dialogue, complaining about the Board not having a copy of the report before it went to City Hall. Seems a little bit like asking Olympic athletes to distribute the medals among themselves. No judges necessary.
The future design of the priority wait list is as clear as mud. All we know for certain is that the Ombudsperson recommended creating a Crisis category that would come equipped with new qualifying criteria. TCHC CEO Kathy Milsom is in full agreement. She appears committed to moving forward with developing a new priority transfer process. According to the Ombudsperson's report the biggest hurdle may be ensuring that Toronto Community Housing staff implement those changes in a fair and equitable manner.
(***Afterthought*** One further group of tenants that don't seem to be accounted for through the Medical or Safety at Risk Priority List nor the more mundane Over/Under-Housed List are those that are being displaced from communities that are undergoing revitalization. Where do they fit in to this hierarchy of those waiting for the few available subsidized units?)
"I would like to that the TCHC Board of Directors for hearing me out today on an issue that should be of utmost importance to all employees at TCHC from the directors, managers, to the frontline staff and the tenant reps. The issue I will be discussing with you today is ethics. This is defined as the basic principles of right and wrong.
In an effort to confine today's discussion to the agenda items as requested I have decided to touch on a few pieces of information presented in the Monthly Presidents Report brief - Item 3a on the agenda.
We will begin with the Capital Expenditures of 250 million dollars. There needs to be an honest assessment made to calculate the actual cost of hiring contractors based on the lowest bid. The reason being that many are sub-contracting the work without leaving a clear site supervisor.
In addition, I have lost complete faith that the workers who have been hired to upgrade the plumbing throughout my building are actually qualified to complete the work. Not only have they damaged people's kitchen cupboards to the point of needing a complete replacements, broken dining room light fixtures, and scratched the enamel in people's bathtubs but they also managed to flood the unit they use as storage ...(Which just happens to be across the hall from me!)
Wouldn't you be concerned if a plumber didn't know how to turn off a tap? Yeah ... Me too.
Another ethical issue I have with capital expenditures is related to accessibility. How much taxpayers money would be saved if TCHC considered accessibility at the forefront of the design process? Not as an afterthought or a second phase like the rec room in my building (completed a year and a half ago without an accessible kitchen or proper ventilation), like the park (with was completed just before Christmas 2017 from money from the Partnership Opportunities Legacy Fund) , and like the parking renovations that are currently taking place where they have built barriers to previously accessible pathways.
You may be wondering where Toronto Community Housing could invest some of that money you saved. May I suggest security cameras? I have serious concerns about TCHC special constables boasting about 723 joint patrols with Toronto Police Services. Do you know that as a security guard for Burns Security decades ago we were required to complete one patrol per hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year? That means that every single site had a total of 8,760 patrols per year (8,784 in a leap year).
What exactly is it that makes your special constables "special" anyway? I know they were given special powers by Toronto Police Services. But seeing as their innate power if invisibility is in full affect shouldn't those other powers granted by TPS be revoked?
Finally, I would like to applaud the CEO on her utopian vision of TCHC as a tenant centric organization. I would like to ask her which she thinks will come first. Will it be a complete staff change at TCHC to rid the organization of those that managers revealed are extremely antagonistic about the whole concept of tenant engagement in a report published last year titled Reading Between the Lines of Participation: Tenant Participation and The Participatory Budgeting in Toronto Community Housing? Or will it be Toronto Community Housing tenants achieving equal representation on TCHC's Board of Directors?
Whichever it is, I'm sure that we can all agree that Toronto Community Housing Corporation has many wrongs to right before it can begin to consider itself a tenant centric organization.
Thanks again for your time."
***UPDATE On January 29th, 2018 The Toronto Sun published an article by Sue Ann Levy about many points raised in my deputation to the Board of Directors at TCHC - Where's the Oversight for TCHC Repairs? (In addition, The Toronto Sun used a number of photo's that I provided.)
I have been acknowledged by other tenants for knowing my rights. Not a bad thing to have said to my face. They can say whatever the heck they want behind my back.
You may be wondering what that has to do with the units being used by capital project construction contractors. (The ones doing the major work on TCHC sites like replacing the ancient copper water pipes throughout my building.) Let me explain.
Based on a report submitted yesterday at TCHC's Board of Directors meeting there are 40 units across the TCHC portfolio that are being used for "capital deployment". One of them just so happens to be across the hall from me. Oops, their bad.
Within weeks I sent an email to Toronto Public Health regarding two problems arising from this whole set up.
Number one. They are cutting copper piping (enough for the whole building over the time frame of about six months). At first I was freaked out by the noise. Then one day it sounded like they were cutting it right in my living room. I looked out my peep hole. That's when I noticed they were cutting the copper piping with the door open. The workers themselves were walking in and out with light weight masks on. My thoughts quickly went to - If it's that dangerous where's my mask? Why didn't they install proper ventilation?
Number two. One morning I woke up and I couldn't breathe. In a panic I hand to calm down enough to remind myself to inhale. My throat was constricted and air couldn't pass through. Once it did I smelled cigarette smoke. That didn't exactly calm me down. It was strong enough that again I thought someone was in my living room. More than likely a few someone's smoking some cheap ass cigarettes. (The cheaper they are, the harsher they are.) When I got out of bed I opened my bedroom door. No one there. Peaked out my peephole. What do you know? The door to the unit across the hall, the one that the contractors are using, was wide open. One more reason to ensure that they had proper ventilation. I don't know anything for sure about copper metals poisoning but I do know about the dangers of second hand smoke. So do most other people.
This morning I woke up to the following -"You don't cut unless I say you can cut. That goes for you, you, you, and you." There must have been some grumbling or dirty looks from the workers because that was followed up with "You don't follow normal fucking rules ... You don't like it you can go home" Obviously, a supervisor was on site.
Just in case there are any doubts a few moments later I heard the outraged security guard that was hired by the construction company - "What the hell man. Where are we supposed to smoke?" Honestly, I don't care where you smoke. As long as it's outside that nine metre radius of every entrance to this building and not in the unit across the hall from me with the door wide open. That's the good thing about this being a public building. There are bi-laws that protect us that would not apply to private residences. As a security guard working alongside subcontractors on TCHC property she should have known that.
This set of contractors is expected to remain on site until at least December. The cold weather is coming. She (the security guard) should just quit. Smoking that is.
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.
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.