Stig Harvor —
Why are bricks falling off the walls of public housing apartment buildings?
Why are chunks of concrete falling off the elevated Gardiner Expressway?
The answer is simple: All physical structures by mankind deteriorate over time (except some aqueducts built in stone without mortar by the Romans.)
Weather is the main culprit. This is particularly so in colder, variable climates like ours with its wide and sudden changes in temperature. Other culprits are poor materials and workmanship. Any combination of these can lead to marked physical deterioration of any structure. All this is progressively aggravated by inadequate maintenance.
A major reason for public housing deterioration is the action of former Ontario Conservative Premier Mike Harris, obsessed by his Common Sense Revolution. He followed the earlier, fateful example of Paul Martin, federal Liberal prime minister. Martin, to balance his own budget, had selfishly passed his public housing responsibilities on to the provinces.
Harris, to make up for his own considerable tax cuts, conveniently passed his public housing responsibilities farther down the line on to cities in 1998. He then ominously failed to provide adequate funding for the maintenance for today’s 2,154 aging projects. About half of them are 40-50 years old or older. Only 2% are built within the last 10 years.
Public housing repairs over the next 10 years are estimated to cost a staggering $2.6 billion. Without this money, 7,500 units will be uninhabitable and 90% of existing social housing units will be in poor or critical condition by 2023.
Our city’s taxation powers are limited compared to the provincial and federal governments. In October 2013, city council unanimously proposed to share the repair cost equally 1/3 each by the three levels of government. Queen’s Park and Ottawa are still shamefully resisting any commitments to this effect in their just-released 2015 budgets.
Our city has 90% of all public housing units in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). In 2008, the province had agreed upon some diminishing compensation help for Toronto until 2018. Last year it reneged on this agreement. And our city’s actual contribution so far will run out of cash next year.
We can expect more falling bricks.
By sheer luck, no persons have been killed or injured yet.
But public housing residents, 94% of whom live below the poverty line, will be condemned to live in unsafe, crumbling buildings. Is this the best our city, the richest in Canada with the most multi-millionaires, can do?