In January, the Mayor’s Task Force on Toronto Community Housing released its final report. Local 79 is working with community partners, progressive City Councillors and tenants’ groups to assess the report’s recommendations and propose alternatives. The Report’s major recommendation is to create a new non-profit housing provider “New Home” to operate TCHC’s current housing stock and/or transfer housing management to another non-profit or private sector entity. Local 79 is concerned that this approach would reduce transparency and accountability.
Along with my deputation to the Executive Committee, I wrote to the City Manager Peter Wallace advocating for greater accountability, and to keep housing publicly operated to ensure the protection of social housing and the interests of TCHC’s workers, tenants, and communities.
Dear Mr. Wallace,
RE: EX11.21 Final Report of the Task Force on Toronto Community Housing Corporation
As the CUPE Local 79 representative for Toronto Community Housing workers, I am writing in consideration of your review of the final report from the Task Force on Toronto Community Housing Corporation to assess future management models for the provision of Toronto’s social housing.
While the Task Force cites “the need for change”, we must be mindful that social housing in Toronto has already undergone many changes – in governance, reorganization, and de-centralization – throughout the years. Throughout these changes, a chief concern has always been accountability. Accountability and transparency must remain top of mind when considering what service model best meets the needs of housing tenants, service providers and the city as a whole.
Along the track from homelessness to housing, and hopefully decent housing, tenants may require a range of services that include mental health supports, employment education and training, recreational activities, and additional financial supports. Service accountability means determining what is the exact model that serves Toronto citizens best when they are vulnerable.
As an expanded Recommendation #9, I would like to posit that there may be some services, and some housing, that ought to be run by the City of Toronto and directly operated as such. The City is already equipped with the resources and systems to provide a range of supports to housing residents. In fact, TCHC currently works closely with other City divisions such as SDFA and TESS in the form of job fairs/ recruitment initiatives for tenants, and Public Health initiatives such as the Mobile Dental Clinic within TCHC communities. Existing arrangements that have proven successful should be reviewed in the context of continued service provision and possible service expansion. Such direct service provision – whether for housing or tenant supports – may be one way to achieve true accountability.
Service accountability also means accountability to our service providers. I am disappointed that the only mention of front line staff in this report is that they should be given the opportunity to transfer to New Home or other service provider organizations. When reviewing potential models for TCHC’s housing management structure, existing employment relationships must be taken into account. Things to consider include ensuring successor rights are in place prior to any management change, including TCHC staff in consultations, and maintaining transparency and communication with both Local 79 and front line workers, to minimize workplace stress and service disruption.
In addition, many of the problems at TCHC have come to light because of the work of City Council’s accountability officers, especially the Auditor General. New Home, or any other non-profit corporation will not have the same or higher level of transparency.
No matter what structure is put in place, if not sufficiently resourced, that structure is not going to be a success. Given the current condition of Toronto’s social housing stock impacted by years of cuts, downloading, and delays in capital repairs, it may be premature to pass our problems onto a new or third party organization. We cannot wait for someone else to fix the problem.
Recommendation #11 calls for support from higher orders of government. While I am always hopeful that other levels of government will step up, historically speaking, this has not been the case. Moreover, the Province unloaded their housing problem onto the City. It would be irresponsible for the City in turn to unload housing that requires billions in backlog repairs onto a third party, or non-profit who is ill equipped to act as the second biggest landlord in North America.
There may be aspects of TCHC that ought to be directly operated by the City even if there are costs associated with that. Whether its parts of tenant services, housing management, or housing in its entirety – in the full thorough review, we should look at those options.
Additional models such as public-private partnerships and mixed financial developments have already seen success. For example, TCHC’s revitalization in Regent Park and Lawrence Heights has allowed new housing to be built, which lowers maintenance and repair costs while keeping housing directly owned/operated by the City.
Toronto is the second largest housing provider in North America second only to New York city, and we must be accountable to that responsibility. Last year, the New York City Housing Authority released a new strategic plan Next Generation NYCHA (2015). This strategy not only cements the City’s commitment to preserve its public housing stock, but politicians have further committed to increasing the number of social housing units by acquiring new buildings that will be converted into social housing. The Mayor of New York has invested new money in housing and lowered the Housing Authority’s operating deficit by waiving outstanding fees owed to the City.
City Council has already made a commitment to housing by naming housing as a key anti-poverty measure in its Poverty Reduction Strategy. We must now listen to our community partners that are talking not just about housing, but about new revenue tools. If it takes additional financing to do some of the things that need to be done, whether its arms-length or at the City, then we must have that discussion with the community and raise the sufficient resources needed to do the work.
The above comments highlight my remarks made to the Executive Committee on this matter. I thank you for your consideration of these issues as you undertake a review of the TCHC Task Force Final Report. I will also be following up this letter with a more comprehensive submission on the future of social housing in the City of Toronto.
I would be pleased to speak with you at any time to further discuss these matters.
cc: John Cartwright, President, Toronto & York Region Labour Council
John Hancock, President, CUPE National
Hassan Yussuff, President, Canadian Labour Congress