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 ...
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?)