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.
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.