Toronto Community Housing's Daunting Repair Backlog
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Toronto Community Housing’s Daunting Repair Backlog

Toronto Community Housing needs $2.6 billion to repair units over the next 10 years, or 18,000 people will find their homes shuttered. In advance of tomorrow's TCHC task force report, we look at what's at stake.

Toronto Community Housing faces two related crises: a record-long waiting list, and a daunting capital repair backlog.

While the City of Toronto has pledged one third of the $2.6 billion needed to repair TCHC homes over the 10-year capital repair plan, without the other $1.73 billion, the money will run out next year and repairs will stop.

For Greg Spearn, TCHC’s CEO, it’s a longterm structural issue whose consequences are becoming very real.

“Since the company was formed, there was never a proper reserve set aside to continually repair our buildings,” he told Torontoist in 2015.

“We got way behind and there was never any money to do it. So everything is kind of catching up to us an a bit of a tsunami of repairs and that’s largely because more than half of our buildings are more than 50 years old and they’re all starting to age out at the same time because they haven’t been taken care of.”

Around 500 TCHC homes have already been boarded up because they were deemed uninhabitable. The people who lived in those units are put back on the waiting list for community housing—a list that now has around 90,000 families.

TCHC owns around 60,000 units total, but 7,500 more will be shuttered by 2023 if they aren’t repaired. That will leave the over 18,000 people who live in those units without a home.

Spearn says the line between critical condition and uninhabitable is just a matter of time. Currently, 4,000 units are considered critical.

“So a critical unit is going to have a leaky roof, windows that are pretty breezy, because they aren’t sealed properly and it’s hard to keep the units heated in the winter, they’re going to have an appearance that is unpleasant. Because the roof is leaky and so on there’s going to be failures in terms of pieces of drywall falling and stuff like that,” he says.

“And the line between that and being uninhabitable is that the longer that goes on, what begins to happen is the drywall begins to rot and then mould develops and that becomes a health issue and then we have to move people out.”

Spearn says some residents avoid telling TCHC if their unit is in bad shape, because they have nowhere else to go if they’re moved out.

“They know that if they leave there, it’s going to be worse because they won’t have a roof over their head, even though the one they have is leaking,” he says.

Even if TCHC does secure the funding from the province and the new federal government, Spearn says it will not be enough to fully repair and maintain the units.

“We’ve been actually, I’d say, modest in the projection of the repair need at $2.6 billion, because that amount of money will only get our portfolio back to what we call a fair condition, which means the homes are not in good shape, they’re just in fair shape. It’s something that bothers us every day,” Spearn says. Even if $2.6 billion was spent on capital repairs over the next 10 years, there would still be $1 billion in outstanding needs.

But returning the homes to at least fair condition could save a lot of money in the long run, according to a report by the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis in March 2015 that was commissioned by TCHC. The centre predicted billions in new tax revenues for the federal and provincial governments, thousands of new jobs, billions in private investment and an $18 billion increase to the GDP over 30 years, with 68 per cent in the first 10 years. The report also predicts lower healthcare costs, savings of $3.8 billion, a reduction in utility costs as homes are made more energy efficient, and a drop in crime as neighbourhoods are improved.

Spearn argues that since taxpayers are the ones who own the homes—with an estimated real estate value of around $9 billion—Torontonians should want to fix the asset they have, rather than pay to build new affordable housing.

“When I take my real estate hat off … what about the human side? This is housing for people that need it for sure, but they’re also people that do a lot of the basic jobs that need to get done in Toronto and they all need a place to live,” Spearn says.

“So if we can’t sustain keeping them repaired and in good shape, then there’s a growing gap in who can afford to live in Toronto.”

TCHC has tried to raise the money needed to keep repairs going by asking its main mortgage lender, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, for lower rates, but the request was denied earlier in 2015.

The 10-year capital repair plan started in 2013 and Spearn said they’ve been working to triage and tackle the homes in worst condition.

“We’ve been able to do … close to 20,00 major repairs already, but we’re just scratching the surface,” he says.

“There’s a ton left to do and right now we don’t have a plan B for how to finance finishing the job after the money that the city has supported runs out. So for me, where I sit, what I live and breathe every day it should be one of the highest priority election issues in the current federal election.”

Councillor Ana Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport), argues that affordable housing improves the quality of life for all Torontonians.

“When we talk about housing, it’s not only the shelter or the TCHC. We need to look at the whole spectrum,” Bailão says.

“Vacancy rates are low, rents start going up, people can afford less, people spend more money on their rents—what do they do? They start applying for assistance in their housing, our list keep growing. It’s all interconnected, so you need to look at the housing spectrum and Torontonians need to understand that this is an issue that’s affecting all of us.”

A Task Force appointed by John Tory to look at ways of improving TCHC will likely release its report on Tuesday morning.