2013 Villain: Gene Jones
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2013 Villain: Gene Jones

Nominated for: shifting responsibility for neglect onto TCHC tenants.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 2 p.m. on January 1. At 4 p.m. we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

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As CEO of Toronto’s bankrupt, crumbling public housing agency, Gene Jones has few tools to stop the bleeding. Toronto Community Housing’s $860-million repair backlog is the product of many years of ongoing political refusal to fund public housing in Canada. Jones’ performance at TCHC has been disappointing not because he hasn’t fixed the maintenance problem, but because he has inexplicably shifted responsibility for the neglect onto TCHC tenants.

In August, Jones directed a maintenance grant of $150,000 to a TCHC property at Swansea Mews, after residents there gave police information about a shooting that occurred in the complex. Jones called the money a “reward” for reporting criminal activity. “We’ve gotta keep telling our residents the benefits of reporting crime,” Jones explained at the time, adding, “We’re not gonna just give things away; you’ve gotta earn it.”

The move was swiftly condemned by housing advocates and outside observers, but he plowed ahead in his blame crusade. Less than a week later, Jones went on surprise tours of TCHC facilities and called for a “partnership” between his staff and residents to fix long-neglected properties. Citing TCHC’s inadequate capital budget, Jones told the Toronto Star, “It’s not enough…we need residents to take care of their properties.”

Rather than using his public pulpit to call for proper funding, Jones has put undue scrutiny on the residents themselves. The vast majority of the repair backlog is for aging amenities that governments have failed to keep up: sinks, ceilings, balconies, washing machines, fire alarms, and drainpipes. TCHC’s state of good repair, or lack thereof, is not caused by criminal activity, nor is it simply the product of careless or indifferent tenants. Jones ought to take his cue from the TCHC webpage on repairs, which plainly states, “Too many Toronto Community Housing residents live in buildings that are falling apart because we can’t afford to fix them.”