This nasty TCHC mess could be our downfall

By Frank Touby –

I really hate to write this. But it’s just so egregiously manifest that things are converging to create havoc Downtown if remedies aren’t put in place quickly.

If the city’s much-envied successful experiment in modern urban housing brings down the neighbourhood where it was founded, the fault will lie with Toronto Community Housing Corp. (TCHC).

When the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood was a brand new social experiment in housing poor people alongside the wealthy and middle class in a tight Downtown setting on former industrial land, Cityhome was a glowing example of how well this worked.

I know this first hand. Early on after I became a bachelor again, I lived several years in Crombie Park Apartments at Jarvis and The Esplanade. Working as an editor at The Sun nearby, I paid market-level rent, as did all but a quarter of my Cityhome neighbours.

Although the new neighbourhood was seen by many as a place where victims could live in conveniently close quarters with their muggers, the Cityhome buildings were run by the City of Toronto to house low-income persons in a non-ghetto environment.

The city ran it very well. At the start, the low-rise apartment units in St. Lawrence were to be just 25% occupied by subsidized residents in order to avoid ghettoizing Cityhome. It was a good mix and benefited low-income and upper-income residents who could be close neighbours with and interact with people they otherwise would rarely meet.

It was neighbourly and inclusive.

The well-run buildings each had resident managers who kept things tame and tidy.

Then came the Tory wrecking crew headed by a dimwitted, booze-and-broad befuddled premier and his handler Deb Hutton, now wife to another villain from the era, Tim Hudak.

Mike Harris plainly detested Toronto and, like Stephen Harper who recently cursed us with the G20 police-state free for all, he sought to degrade the city. As premier, Harris had more tools to do so and he degraded us in the form of forced amalgamation with the dissimilar suburbs while he downloaded onto us responsibility for the dysfunctional Metro Toronto Housing Authority and the Ontario Housing Corp. slums that had been badly operated by the province. They became conglomerated into the monstrous Toronto Community Housing Corp. (TCHC).

Among the first personnel to go were the resident managers who made life so livable in publicly owned housing—just as paid concierges do in condos. Some kept their jobs, only they weren’t living here any more.

Too big not to fail its residents, TCHC is the greatest threat to the continued success of St. Lawrence Neighbourhood and jeopardizes nearly every neighbourhood where it operates.

The percentage of troubled, deeply subsidized persons given apartment units continued to rise and the ghettoization of many TCHC buildings is a fact. True, some might not have been Cityhome buildings in the first place,

An ersatz police force of security guards was put into TCHC squad cars to move between buildings in a show of power that has little impact on the drug dealing and other felonies that are openly displayed in some buildings.

The social model that so plainly worked in Cityhome has been abandoned and Harris’ Megacity Toronto appears incapable of rescuing it.

One of the things about St. Lawrence Neighbourhood is it’s a bunch of cheap buildings on priceless land in the heart of Downtown Toronto. While there are some condos, former Cityhome and co-op structures prevail here.

TCHC is plainly aware of that valuable land. It’s why the dysfunctional public-housing monster turned into a developer, white painting the former Regents Park into a high-rise version of its former self only with the inclusion of condos and commercial structures.

In St. Lawrence as elsewhere, TCHC maintenance of its housing responsibilities plays third fiddle to its lust for big-time developments which next will feature a redone Lawrence Park. It’s an irresponsible landlord.

In relocating its subsidized and alienated populations from there to here, as has happened with many former Regent Park residents, the ghettoization of the cheap TCHC buildings in St. Lawrence becomes a fact. They deteriorate even quicker and their demolition and rebirth as Downtown condos would become a fact. The social mix in St. Lawrence then shifts to accommodate the commercial interests of developers who seem to be in charge at TCHC.

I disagree with columnist Mike Comstock’s view that corporations should have a go at providing public housing if government doesn’t succeed. That’s wrong-headed and it’s the corporations that make it seem right—for them. Corporations are the ones who break government, corrupt government and create the myth that only profit-hungry big business can be efficient and effective. Government is a service, not a business.

If government doesn’t manage something as straightforward as running social housing better than a for-profit company (and Cityhome proved it can), the bureaucrats who run the government should be replaced.

Too often they’ve been compromised by corporations, which are in truth the reason for most government corruption. Just look at the lobbying practice. Who pays them to seduce governments? Why it’s corporations.

It’s all in plain sight. The solution is first to get TCHC to live up to its responsibilities and adequately maintain its properties. And its next priority must be to continue the successful strategy for which Cityhome and St. Lawrence are world famous: Creation of a stable mixed-income community on former industrial land in the throbbing heart of one of the world’s great cities.