John Sewell —
Enough already. The serious problems at the Toronto Community Housing Corp. (TCHC) have gone unresolved for several years and it’s time for change.
Disrepair, bad management, lack of good governance by a distant board of directors—the TCHC is an example of the dysfunction that Rob Ford has allowed to fester in Toronto.
The latest stories are about the bad management practices of the new general manager Eugene Jones, who was brought in from the States because it was thought he could deal with the problems. But he didn’t.
The crisis is about more than just the general manager of the TCHC: it’s about the way the whole TCHC is structured.
The recipe for disaster was plain to see shortly after the creation of the megacity in 1998. There were three different housing agencies operating in Toronto at that time, and the decision was made that the three should be merged into a single company. But they were three fundamentally different kinds of companies, with differing kinds of housing serving different interests. NO rational person would have expected them to coexist well with each other.
One agency was the Metro Toronto Housing Authority, which managed the 33,000 units of public housing built in Metro Toronto by the provincial government. The units were in more than 100 public housing projects built in the megacity from the late-19
40s until the mid-1970s. Premier Mike Harris, in his attack on low-income housing and the city, downloaded the MTHA onto the city, and the city was forced to take responsibility for unit repair and most of the MTHA’s subsidy.
Some MTHA projects were large (Regent Park, Lawrence Heights), some mid-sized (Jane Finch, Finch Birchmount), some fairly small, but almost all were badly designed. They were also in a poor state of repair and without a management system that tenants could rely on. All MTHA tenants had low incomes (many families lived on less than $15 000 a year) and rent was on a geared-to-income basis.
A second housing agency was Cityhome, the non-profit development company created by the former City of Toronto in 1974. Cityhome built mixed developments where about one-third of the units were for low-income tenants and the other two-thirds were for tenants paying market rent. These weren’t “projects,” since they fit so well within the neighbourhoods where they were built, and often (as with the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood) the city-owned buildings were surrounded by different non-profit and co-operative developments as well as by private condos. Cityhome controlled about 9000 units when the megacity was created, and the units were in buildings constructed between the late-1970s and the mid-1990s, so they were not just well managed, but in good repair too.
The third agency was the Metro Toronto Senior Citizens Housing Company, which controlled about 15,000 units, most built in the 1970s and 1980s. This Metro-owned company built housing only for seniors, and the housing was well managed and maintained.
These three different organizations were amalgamated in 2002 into one big company, the TCHC, which became responsible for almost 60,000 housing units. The TCHC bills itself as the biggest manager of social housing in Canada, but that’s hardly something to cheer about. Like the megacity, it’s too big and too diverse to function well under a single management structure.
The TCHC should be taken apart and divided into three different companies, each with its own general manager and its own board of directors. This way we can get management that’s effective for the problems being faced.
The former Cityhome units and the senior citizen units generally pose few management, repair, or security problems, and both should have their own board and general manager.
If the MTHA projects can get their own board and managers, we can ensure that the problems with the public housing portfolio no longer infect and swamp the other kinds of units.
Given the right kind of attention, many public housing projects could be redesigned to include more assisted housing and market units and better integration with the surrounding neighbourhoods.
But this will only happen if these projects have their own board of directors.
The TCHC must be restructured if there’s to be good management and an end to the ongoing problems in Toronto’s public housing
John Sewell is a former mayor of Toronto, a former chair of the Board of MTHA, and a former president of Cityhome.