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Compromise Reached on Community Housing Sales

Council decides to sell a small number of TCHC's single-family homes, in an attempt to address an urgent repair backlog.

Photo by Nick Kozak/Torontoist.

In September, 2012 there were 72,969 households with active applications on the waiting list for community housing in Toronto [PDF]. Of those, 22,688 are households with dependents, and 22,420 are households with seniors. Nobody at city council today was under any impression they’d be able to solve that problem, though—their goals were more modest: decide whether to sell some single-family homes, currently part of the Toronto Community Housing’s stock, and put the proceeds towards a repair backlog currently estimated to be $751 million.

Mayor Rob Ford had originally been hoping to sell all of TCHC’s single family homes—it owns several hundred—but that proposal caused an uproar when it came up last year. In a compromise move, council set up a working group spearheaded by Ana Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport) to consider that, and other options, for addressing the repair backlog.

Today, by a wide margin, council approved the recommendations in that working group’s report, which call for selling a small number of the single-family homes, but keeping the rest under the control of the TCHC.

Original number of houses proposed for sale: 619
Eventually recommended for sale: 55
Recommended for conversion to affordable home ownership: up to 100

The compromise measure attempts to balance the urgent need for funds with broader public housing goals. One of the main benefits of including single-family homes in the public housing stock, say its advocates, is to ensure Toronto’s neighbourhoods are socially and economically mixed. (The term “warehousing the poor” often gets bandied about in debates.) The idea is that the city as a whole does best when our communities are eclectic, when people with different experiences come into contact with each other as neighbours. Opponents tend to focus on the financial implications of maintaining individual homes rather than apartment blocks (though historically those have certainly come with their own host of problems).

“This is fantastic news for the people who live in Toronto community housing,” began Ford, when he spoke on the issue today—a far cry from his earlier position that all of the houses absolutely had to go. He added, however, that he thinks we need to go further, and this can be nothing more than a first step. Many councillors on the left continue to reject that idea, but agreed this is a good compromise that will make some headway in alleviating the funding crunch, while also addressing their concerns about displacing an inordinate number of TCHC residents.

Not everyone was convinced, however. In a passionate speech, councillor Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) implored his colleagues to reconsider. “I do not accept the claim that we do not have enough wealth in the city of Toronto to house everyone… I’m told that we need to reduce the amount of housing that we have to save the rest. That’s nonsense.” We could, he went on, choose to increase property tax rates by 1 per cent or 2 per cent and generate enough revenue to permanently resolve community housing shortfalls. “We are one of the least-taxed big cities anywhere in North America, and I know we can afford to house Torontonians. We are simply choosing not to.”

Homes with an estimated market value of $600,000 or above, and which require significant capital repairs, have been flagged as the best candidates for sale. In addition, tenants of up to 100 other single-family homes will be given the opportunity to purchase the houses they live in, with the help of non-profit down payment assistance programs. This will both net the TCHC some immediate money (estimated at $98 million) and save on some costs (since it will no longer be paying to maintain the houses). Overall though, the working group “believes there are faster, better and more socially responsive ways to generate revenue to pay for repairs than the sale of the single family homes.” Among those strategies: some mortgage refinancing, capturing land value through intensification, saving money through energy efficient retrofits, and developing partnerships with the private and non-profit sectors. A report on partnership opportunities will be coming next year, and TCHC is expected to pursue some of these other strategies in the meantime.

The Special Housing Working Group Report: [PDF].

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