On September 23, 2019 there was a press conference at the head office of Toronto Community Housing Corporation. All the mainstream media was in attendance. Then there was me. I'm not sure how many more of these they are going to allow me to actively criticize before they rescind my invitation. For now, I will enjoy the privilege.
Among those standing in support of the message from left to right are City Councillor Ana Bailão, Mayor John Tory, Minister of Municipal Affairs & Housing Steve Clark, and TCHC CEO Kevin Marshman. I said "standing in support of" because we didn't hear a single word from City Councillor Ana Bailão.
For the record, we may begin with the Ontario government's press release itself. There is one sentence in it that concerned me most. "Starting today, housing providers have the discretion to turn away prospective tenants who have been evicted from community housing for … illegal activities and who pose a threat to the community."
Now, when the notions around tenant safety are discretionary, and neither the Ontario government, nor, TCHC have an implementation plan, there is no real effort to keep the criminal element out of community housing.
In addition, people that apply for TCHC technically have to fill out an application form at Housing Connections. That is a similar system of warehousing applicants as what would be available at a temporary staffing agency. In other words, the most effective way to eliminate the return of criminals into community housing (preventing them from applying in the first place) is not a feasible option. All tenant application procedures have been outsourced.
Now, if the Ontario government (aka Doug Ford) really wanted to seriously make systemic changes, that would directly impact the ability of criminals to return to live in community housing across the province, they would grant more funding to Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board in order to expedite the decisions that lead to evictions.
There also needs to be an overview of what the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board considers evidence in the event of an application to evict a tenant. To require another tenant within community housing to testify (in writing or in person) to the level that a neighbours behaviour is impacting their enjoyment of their unit comes with the very real risk that the OLTB won't evict the criminal after the first, second, or even, the third appearance in front of the tribunal.
Objective forms of evidence like audio recordings and photos need to be admissible to TCHC, as well as, the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board. Otherwise, TCHC doesn't take a tenants concerns seriously enough. Thereby allowing TCHC to avoid any form of enforcement action whether that be simply tracking all police/security incident reports with respect to a specific unit or submitting the paperwork for an eviction application.
Lets face it. A large percentage of those persons causing issues in TCHC are not officially on a lease. Further limiting the effectiveness of a criminal ban. On site security would be the most efficient way to ensure that many involved in criminal and/or anti-social activities are kept out of Toronto Community Housing. But that option is only available for when a community is in dire straits. TCHC doesn't seem to think much in terms of risk prevention.
Mayor John Tory's claim sounds promising - "Discretion allows Toronto Community Housing ... to exercise that judgement. They are the closest to the building. They are closest to what is going on in the building. They are closest to what the person may have done and when they did it in the past."
Leaving these decisions up to community housing "service managers" because they are closer to the individuals and incidents that occurred previously within a community seems ideal. But it can be problematic in communities like mine. After all, TCHC recently announced publicly, that they have fired several operating unit managers. Mine included.
There was a brief mention at this press conference about the Ontario government improving how Rent Geared to Income calculations would be changed for tenants in community housing. How they would be simplified. No details were given.
I find it highly unlikely they would go ahead with my recommendation of instituting a one time, above the OLTB guidelines increase in rent to reflect the Maximum Shelter Allowance that persons on social assistance would be entitled to if they were renting from private landlords.
Honestly, I want to know how many decades ago the Rent Geared to Income amounts were set and what the amounts would be worth in today's dollars? Then again I have the same questions about the woefully inadequate Maximum Shelter Allowance granted to OW and ODSP recipients. All questions for another day.
It shouldn't come as any surprise then, that I would declare the whole Ontario Making Community Housing Safer press conference as a non event. Despite the mainstream medias creative editing there was nothing to see here. No real change.
On September 27th, 2019 thousands of people took to Queen's Park in support of the Global Strike for Climate Change. It was great to see that this was truly an all ages event. The one fault of this event was that there were no water stations for those attendees who brought refillable water bottles. Otherwise, there were also some stellar performances by Wolf Saga, Sarah Harmer, and Jim Creegan (Bare Naked Ladies).
Above is a photo of one many posters that TCHC and Toronto Fire have posted around the Regent Park community. I wonder how much they cost and if they can get their money back.
To begin with, the press conference (held on September 16th, 2019 at the 325 Fire Hall on Dundas Street East) announcing this new joint venture fire safety campaign involving TCHC and Toronto Fire was headlined by two older white men (TCHC CEO - Kevin Marshman & Toronto Fire - Deputy Fire Chief Jim Jessop.) Now, I'm not sure about many things but last time I checked the majority of kitchen fires were reported to have been in units where there were young adults on the lease. Many of whom would be people of colour.
Then I'm left wondering with all the many consultation processes over the last several years if TCHC conducted any type of market research or focus groups to assist with the creation of this message. Specifically, to ensure that it would appeal to the particular age demographic in this particular community. (Sidebar - I loved the TCHC "Don't Be A Flicking Idiot" campaign posters. Just sayin') Maybe in the future the Fire Safety Ambassadors they mentioned at the press conference could be drawn from the demographic that is most likely at risk of leaving food unattended on the stove.
In other words, the message needs to be from someone that they would be able to identify with and in their language (lingo). Meanwhile, this poster reads like a challenge. Fires Happen Fast. I have more questions from seeing it than answers. Maybe the next Fire Safety Awareness Campaign could have a photo of the silicone oven mitt and a pot lid. #PutALidOnIt As I have said before this is the issue at TCHC. They are more problem focussed than they are solution oriented.
Furthermore, as a little extra promotion of my proposed Fire Safety Awareness Campaign at TCHC they are welcome to raffle off some of those pricey silicone oven mitts at community events. I have a cheap pair of dollar store oven mitts that burn me every time I grab a cookie sheet or bread pan out of the oven. Never mind expecting it to hold up against a pot on fire.
Please keep in mind that my deputation to the Executive Committee at the City of Toronto on item 7.1 - Implementing Tenants First - A New Seniors Housing Corporation and Proposed Changes to Toronto Community Housing Corporations Governance was begun at 8:00 a.m. the day of the meeting on July 4th, 2019. Then submitted via email at approximately 9:15 a.m. Cutting it close I agree. Apologies in advance for not publishing written work that meets my usual standards. But I believe you will understand the broad strokes. Here's the link to the complete unedited version that appears on the City of Toronto's website.
A couple weeks ago I spent over an hour and a half outside the front of my #TorontoCommunityHousingCorporation building picking up cigarette butts. (No worries I had gloves on.) Why would I do this? Because I want to reinforce the notion that #TCHC needs to go smoke free ASAP. Every one of those butts represent the possibility of a fire. What's even more interesting is the amount of time it took for that many butts and the crack pipe to appear on the tiny parcels of land that make up the front lawn. Given that the sod was just placed in the late fall 2018 and I collected them at the end of April 2019 that's just a six month accumulation. The small sections of lawn I picked these butts up from is right on front of the daycare. Yeah, that daycare. As if that's not bad enough they want to turn these small grass patches into an infant play space. Good luck with that!
May 5th Part One - So the Gilder Early Learning and Child Care Center (daycare) in my #TorontoCommunityHousing building has decided to upgrade their infant and toddler play spaces. From what I can see these pieces of playground equipment are still in great shape and the one for toddlers has more accessibility features than what is available on the playground equipment used by the #TCHC community as a whole. Has any thought or consideration been given to recycling this playground equipment? There is plenty of room to install the equipment behind the #TorontoCommunityHousingCorporation low rises here on Gilder. I really wish TCHC and affiliates would quit working in silos to have best possible outcome for the community as a whole instead of having competing interests vying for space and funding. #Recycle #Accessible #Playground #Equipment #Silos #hope_still_lives_here
May 5th Part Two - I would dearly love to know who gave Gilder Early Learning and Child Care Center permission to commandeer our basketball court. Installing gates at both entrances and placing one of their sheds in the corner of the court without any consultation with the rest of this #TCHC community is disrespectful. Especially given that the daycare was given a seat on the committee that managed to have the basketball court upgraded in the first place. Where was the quid pro quo? Plus, Gilder is not exactly overrun with activities that can keep #TorontoCommunityHousing children and youth busy over the warmer months. Removing access to the one activity that they don't have to sign up to participate in is detrimental to the youth and the community at large. #Children #Youth #TorontoCommunityHousingCorporation #Basketball #hope_still_lives_here
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.