Public housing residents voice opposition to selling off units
By Rasheed Clarke
Holding a microphone to his lips, Clive Williams sat up straight at the edge of his chair and posed the question, “Why do I sit on a $650 toilet?”
“It’s not special. It doesn’t hook up to the ceiling or something,” Williams continued. “It just shows that the construction department is warped.”
The construction department he was referring to was that of the Toronto Community Housing (TCH), the largest social housing provider in Canada, which accommodates approximately 164,000 low and moderate-income tenants across the city.
Williams’ comments were the first of many complaints from TCH residents directed at board members at a town hall meeting held at the Senator D. Croll Apartments (341 Bloor St. W.) in April. Members from Toronto Public Health, bylaw officers and police representatives were also on hand.
Of prime concern among residents was the possibility that their homes would be sold to help TCH pay for a growing list of repair orders. Last February, TCH’s interim chief executive officer, Len Koroneos, proposed selling off 675 single-family homes to generate some of the $750 million needed for repairs.
When his turn to speak came about, Wallace Simpson stated bluntly, “Suggesting that selling off some homes is the only solution for dealing with repairs is not only bad business sense, but disrespectful to tenants.
“It’s not the tenants’ fault that TCH has this repair crisis, and tenants shouldn’t be the ones responsible for solving it.”
Simpson’s comments were greeted by chants of “we are not for sale” from a handful of residents.
TCH chief operating officer Deborah Simon said that limited funding makes repair work a challenge for the housing corporation.
“We’re working with a little over $50 million a year to support some very old structures, and to stretch those dollars in the best possible way is a difficult task,” she said.
“We get thousands of work orders per year, and we prioritize life safety as the most important thing to address, and we try our best to look after the other issues as they come, so that means in some cases we’re not getting to all the issues that are important to people.”
An alternative funding option raised by resident Harvey Pinder was to increase tenants’ rent-geared-to-income rate from 30 to 35 per cent of gross income. That suggestion was met with scattered shouts of disapproval.
Dan King, a tenant representative for the Senator Croll Apartments, suggested that the best way forward for TCH was to tear down old buildings and construct new ones, as they have in Regent Park.
Other issues raised by tenants revolved around safety and sanitation.
For five years, Keith Lancaster has tried unsuccessfully to have a known drug dealer removed from his building.
“In the last year he’s spent nine months in jail. Each time he gets out he walks right back into his apartment and [tenants] have to put up with his nonsense,” he said.
“I have requested a move, but my psychiatrist, my doctor and my case worker all say the same thing, ‘Why should you move? You’re not the troublemaker.’”
Concerns about hygiene brought Sandra Markov to the meeting. She said that rats had been tunneling into her building, and that unemptied garbage bins had attracted raccoons and flies to her neighbourhood.
Councillor Cesar Palacio (Ward 17, Davenport), sits on the board and chairs the tenant and community services committee. Addressing tenants’ security concerns, he said, “We recognize we have areas in the city where the level of crime is worse, and that’s where we need to focus our attention in terms of providing 24/7 security on site.”
Not all residents at the meeting came to reprimand TCH, however. Kathy Lee said that she loves her home, feels a sense of community, and feels safe—partly due to the fact that she lives steps away from Toronto Police 52 Division headquarters.
TCH held town hall meetings with residents at three other locations around the city in April.