Talking About Stopping the Sale of Social Housing
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Talking About Stopping the Sale of Social Housing

At a community meeting Thursday night, participants voiced opposition to selling TCHC homes.

Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_kevino/3590752330/sizes/z/in/photostream/"}Mr Kevino{/a} from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

A collection of politicians, community activists, social housing tenants, and concerned citizens got together last Thursday at to talk in general terms about the problems facing the Toronto Community Housing Corportation, and specifically about a proposal to sell off about 600 TCHC-owned occupied single-family homes, in order to pay down the corporation’s estimated $650 million repairs backlog.

Organized by the Toronto Social Action Coalition, the evening included speeches from the likes of Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) and Michael Shapcott, the director of housing and innovation at the Wellesley Institute, a local think tank.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” Councillor Ana Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport), also in attendance, told the crowd that had gathered at the Edward Day Gallery on Queen Street West. “Toronto housing, the way it is, is not working.”

Sure, fixing social housing may seem like a lofty goal, but the evening wasn’t about empty rhetoric. Bailão actually has a chance to make TCHC work a little differently. After a little negotiating, the rookie councillor managed to get the proposed sale of occupied houses postponed (pending council’s approval), and she’s been appointed by the mayor to head a special task force to find alternative ways to fund the repairs. The task force will present its findings to the executive committee in the fall. In the meantime, Bailão is looking for input from stakeholders like tenants, colleagues, and non-profits.

So far, selling some TCHC houses to fund repairs at other TCHC properties is the best idea anyone in charge has come up with. And it has already happened. Last year, the TCHC board (back when the board was composed solely of Case Ootes) and city council approved the sale of 22 houses.

That sort of thinking—the kind of “act now, think later” mentality that the City has been operating with under the Ford administration—is what the evening’s participants were rallying against. Many of those who spoke positioned their battle for maintaining and improving social housing as part of the greater ideological fight that’s dominated so many political decisions of late: Can we be a society that puts the collective good ahead of individual need?

While some concrete solutions to the TCHC crisis at hand were mentioned—like Councillor Adam Vaughan’s (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) plugs for Transit City, Tower Renewal, and neighbourhood action plans—the goal of the night seemed to more about rallying the troops for the battle than drawing up an action plan. Vaughan himself, as he took the microphone, said he could talk policy, “but those ideas aren’t needed tonight.”

One of the best speeches of the night came from artist Roy Mitchell, who is also the executive director at Trinity Square Video, a non-profit video production centre. Amid the worthy monologues from policy wonks and politicians, Mitchell injected some energy into the evening by including an audience call-and-response portion in his speech and handing out some “Our mayor embarrasses me” buttons he’d made.

Most of all, Mitchell advocated for creative solutions to the City’s housing problems from artists and other non-experts, because, as he said, “the experts got us where we are now.”

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