Giving TCHC Tenants a Voice
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Giving TCHC Tenants a Voice

Toronto Community Housing tenants and advocates weigh-in on the future of the organization's scattered single-family homes.

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For Chloe Brown, finding adequate housing in Toronto has been a stressful and anxious experience. The Toronto-based youth has moved 10 times in the past three years, and finding affordable shelter means having to make tough choices.

“It comes down to choosing between paying rent and going to school,” says the Ontario Works recipient who had to stop attending Humber College due to the cost of balancing tuition and rent.

Brown, who has been homeless, lived on the street, and has hit and bounced back from what she describes as rock bottom, says that secure and safe living conditions are a necessity for the livability and sustainability of a city, but feels that all levels of government have failed in making this a priority.

“Affordable housing is not just an investment, but a lifeline.”

Brown has a clear message about potential changes being discussed in regards to the city’s low-income housing: don’t forget to think about the tenants first. That same message was echoed by a collection of politicians, community activists, social-housing tenants, and concerned citizens gathered at the Toronto Reference Library on Tuesday to discuss ideas concerning the future of Toronto Community Housing‘s scattered single-family homes and its repair backlog.

Organized by the Social Housing Working Group, including chair Councillor Ana Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport); members Alan Redway, a former MP and minister of state for housing from 1989 to 1991; Bud Purves, chair of the TCHC; and Jim Pimblett, a partner at strategy consulting firm nD Insight, the group was keen to hear ideas, and according to Councilor Bailão, had no preconceived notions or priorities going in to the meeting.

Earlier this year, Bailão was chosen to lead the task force in the wake of a controversial proposal advanced by the mayor to sell more than single-family homes owned by TCH, and use the proceeds to help put a dent in what’s estimated to be $750 million of needed repairs. About 2,600 residents live in those homes, and with TCH’s long-waiting list, many are concerned about the outcome of Ford’s proposal. Bailão is spearheading consultations this summer; the results of the task force’s findings are expected to come before city council in the fall.

Jamal Binwalee, a young father of a three-year-old and four-year-old child, shares the insecurity of not knowing what will come next when it comes to adequate and affordable housing. Though Binwalee’s home is currently funded by Toronto North Support Services, as of March 2013 he will be back on the hunt for a home that he can afford as his funding expires. A Chicago native, he had high hopes of what life would be like in Toronto, though he feels let down by the reality.

“This is potentially the greatest city in the world, and we are squandering the opportunity,” Binwalee says. “There is a dramatic disconnect between the policy makers and the people who live there [in Toronto Community Housing].”

Twenty-five-year-old Christine Myles, who lives in public housing in the Cataraqui community of Scarborough, agrees.

“People can’t put forth ideas for action if they aren’t in touch with the reality.”

Though six months pregnant, Myles recently spent hours cleaning up in her community, raking and piling up garbage filled with needles, in order to rebuild some pride in her area. It’s a start, though modest, in revitalizing an area she describes as troubled by issues of prostitution, drugs, domestic abuse, people living with mental health issues and not receiving care, and run-down, mold-filled housing.

“Yes, you can house people, but what happens once they are housed?” she asks. “What about the souls of the people?”

“There’s no one idea that’s better than another, we’re here just to listen,” says Bailão. “We want to involve people, we want them to be part of the process, we want our citizens and stakeholders to have a say in what we include in the report.”

By the end of Tuesday’s six-hour session, a few things were clear: those participating do not agree with the sell-off of TCHC housing, though they agree that the repairs need to be dealt with immediately (a sentiment shared by housing experts). There were also cries for more help from the provincial and federal government, something that TCHC chairman Bud Purves isn’t banking on.

“We’ve heard a lot of ideas about getting more money from government, and we would certainly welcome money from the government when and if it comes,” says Purves, with an emphasis on the if and when, but adds that nobody has mentioned anything to him about federal or provincial funding.

Other ideas that were floated at Tuesday’s meeting include introducing progressive, municipal taxation directed at community housing; transferring ownership, management and/or operations of community housing to a co-op or a private corporation; endorsing Bill C-400, a private-member’s bill advanced by NDP MP Marie-Claude Morin that calls for the establishment of a national housing strategy; involving Habit for Humanity in repair work; and starting from the ground up by building new units.

Members of the working group said will take these suggestions into consideration as they prepare the report they’ll be presenting in the fall.

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