After a year of deliberation, the task force has spoken: Toronto Community Housing should be in the hands of a new non-profit organization.
How do you fix North America’s second-largest social housing provider?
That’s the question the six-member TCHC task force appointed by John Tory tried to answer over the past year, and they presented their final report on the matter Tuesday morning. The 83-page report outlines 29 recommendations meant to address systemic problems that have long plagued TCHC, including the short supply of units, lack of funding, and poor living conditions for tenants.
Over the last few years, the city has tried fixing the myriad problems by instating new board members, new CEOs, and a TCHC working group to tackle the $2.6 billion repair backlog, but so far, progress has been slow and minute compared to what is left to do.
So how can TCHC retool—or reinvent itself—to meet the needs of some of the city’s most vulnerable residents?
“The model, as it stands, is not working, and it hasn’t been for some time. We have some deep-rooted historical problems that have a lot to do with structures and old habits,” the mayor said to the room full of media, council members and various stakeholders. “The issues faced by the TCHC are large, and they’re difficult, and they’ve been allowed to accumulate for a very long time.”
To fix the model Tory described as “fundamentally broken” the task force suggests a structural overhaul that will see the TCHC relinquish most of its managerial responsibilities. In its place, a non-profit organization tentatively called “NewHome” would take over the 2,200 housing stock valued at $9 billion, and function at an arm’s length of the city.
Both Tory and Eggleton emphasized that there are already plenty of non-profit housing companies operating in Toronto, seemingly with much less drama than the TCHC. “Ask yourself this important question,” Tory urged, “why is it that we have about 240 non-profit housing providers in Toronto, regulated effectively by the City as the service manager, but rarely, if ever, are they the subject of the kind of controversy that we hear about with respect to TCH.”
Tory went ahead and answered that question, suggesting that “TCHC is in charge of too many buildings, spread over too large an area, and which house too many people in need of various kinds of serious social support.”
It’s an option that Joy Connelly, a long-time housing advocate and consultant who advised the task force on the final report, has raised in the past. “The experience with Toronto’s other non-profits has been overall very positive,” she said in response to the Tuesday’s announcement.
Under the new model, smaller housing providers may take on management of some of the current TCHC buildings to better serve specific low-income populations, like seniors or people with disabilities, for example. A non-profit housing authority would also benefit from being able to borrowing more funds than the City, which is limited by a 15 per cent debt ceiling.
Along with the new non-profit model, the report outlines other key areas for improvement:
Develop more mixed-income communities
The report recommends renegotiating the mix of market-rent and rent-geared-to-income (RGI) units in affordable housing communities to include more market rentals. Right now, 90 per cent of the units are RGI, which means tenants pay roughly one third of their income on rent, and the city subsidizes the rest. The task force would like to bump the proportion of market-rent units to 30 per cent. This would help the housing provider generate more income from rent, which would be pumped back into affordable housing initiatives. The report emphasizes that no existing RGI units would be converted to market-rent units, given the already vast undersupply of subsidized housing.
Decentralize the organizational structure
One recurring complaint from tenants is that TCHC is not responsive enough to their needs. “The main problems for me are maintenance and security,” says Muna Mohammed, the TCHC resident on the task force. Mohammad says that a lack of staff in the buildings means tenants wait a long time before repairs are done, and security guards are rarely around to prevent crime. According to the report, adding more front-line staff, and having fewer employees in head office management positions, will help maintain the state of good repair in buildings and give tenants more autonomy over their living situation.
Introduce on-site hubs to assist vulnerable tenants
The report suggests NewHome partner with outside agencies to provide support services in communities with the most vulnerable tenants. There are 27,500 seniors and 24,000 people living with mental illness in TCH, for example, and they need supports the TCHC hasn’t been providing. In other supportive housing, adequate staff-to-tenant ratio is considered one worker for 30 tenants. At TCHC, one staff member is responsible for 2,350 households. The idea is to outsource support services to organizations, like Cota, that are better equipped to aid residents. Some of these services could come from provincially funded Local Health Integration Networks.
Tory and Eggleton reiterated that in order to press forward with the report’s recommendations, significant resources are still needed from the province and the feds. The mayor added he’s confident they’ll get the federal funding they need, particularly after seeing how “moved” the prime minister was at the state of community housing in Toronto. “Help is on the way,” he assured the room.
The task force will bring the report to the executive committee on Thursday, with the goal of having an interim plan outlined this spring.
Photo by Catherine McIntyre