Welcome the new, keep the old
I walked through the Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre’s Open House on September 22nd with a lump in my throat. Little girls danced in one room, while professional-calibre adults rehearsed down the hall. Locals displayed their creations at ArtHeart, while fledgling entrepreneurs eyed some of the few office spaces still available in the Centre for Social Innovation. The entire building was filled with life and vitality – city-building at its best.
The centre has been named Daniels Spectrum to recognize the Daniels Corporation’s $4 Million contribution to the building – not to mention the company’s contribution to the entire Regent Park development. If it had not stepped forward when other companies shied at the risks, Regent Park would not be what it is today.
But there was a contributor even more crucial to Regent Park’s success: the visionary able to turn decades of “what-do-we-do-about-Regent Park” talk into action.
So where in Regent Park is the Derek Ballantyne Building? Why is there no plaque, or star in the sidewalk, to acknowledge his contribution? Why do TCHC’s media releases consistently fail to mention his role?
Of course, I know the answer.
In February 2011 a blistering Auditor General’s report cited serious problems with TCHC’s procurement and staff expense practices. The newly elected Mayor Ford and his strong coalition of Council supporters fired TCHC’s Board of Directors. And the “heads must roll” campaign led to the firing without cause of Derek Ballantyne from his job as the COO of Build Toronto.
From then on, TCHC’s strategy has been to distance itself from the Ballantyne era. I think that is a mistake. The years from 2002, when Ballantyne was hired and TCHC was formed, to his departure in 2009, were nothing short of extraordinary.
Let’s not forget:
- Tenant-centred management. For the first time, tenants were given a real voice through municipal-style tenant elections, participatory budgeting, the Anti-Ablism Committee and seniors’ councils, town halls and a speakers’ bureau. Tenants led the Save our Structures campaign that yielded $239 M for capital repairs.
- Investments in youth: TCHC hired hundreds of youth directly, and required contractors to do the same. It sponsored apprenticeships, scholarships, internships, job fairs, athletic partnerships, new playgounds and basketball courts . . . the list goes on.
- The Social Investment Fund, $1 M every year for tenant-led initiatives
- Greener buildings, reducing carbon emission by 19,000 tonnes per year – the equivalent of taking 10,000 cars off the road
- New talent. Ballantyne cut 70 management positions from 2002 to 2004. But he also created a vision that attracted the brightest and best.
- Over 1800 new housing units at a time of spotty government funding
Visit TCHC’s website and you’ll see the awards – for architecture, planning, employment practices and more.
And let’s also not forget how closely Ballantyne’s vilification was tied to the political aims of Ford Nation. If the real issues were merely the Auditor’s Report, then why didn’t Council permit its own Audit Committee to review the report before firing the Board? And why was there no serious consideration of the accounting reforms TCHC had already introduced?
The things that need changing
Was TCHC perfect under Ballantyne’s leadership?
No. Visionaries are rarely bookkeepers. They’re rarely line managers either.
A TCHC tenant once told me, “TCHC has an implementation gap.” That was my observation too. The head office was filled with brilliant, passionate and hard-working managers and staff. But for some reason I never fully understood, there was a dis-connect with the front lines. Excellent policies would be developed but never fully implemented. You could read TCHC’s first-rate Eviction Prevention Policy, rooted in the best practices in the field, and yet still see warning letters to tenants that would make you cringe. You could see a well-researched Partnerships Policy, and yet search high and low for data on TCHC’s actual partners.
I have seen this pattern many times. Visionary leaders can put an organization on the map. But they invariably need lieutenants, or successors, who can consolidate the gains, and bring order to the chaos that so often accompanies rapid change. Keiko Nakamura may have been that successor, but she never really had the chance to try.
I haven’t met Gene Jones yet. But from everything I read, he is the right man for the job. In the first week on the job he made a point of meeting with front-line staff. He’s quick to praise good work, but he expects it too. In just a few weeks on the job he put in place such basics as an on-line staff phone directory. And he seems to actually relish working with the media – a gift Ballantyne never had.
We don’t have to choose
My dad used to quote this motto:
Make new friends. But keep the old.
One is silver, the other gold.
In Gene Jones we may have the silver bullet who can put TCHC’s management back on track. In Ballantyne’s legacy we have golden treasure: revitalized neighbourhoods, energy efficiency, tenant leadership, partnerships.
It’s all good. And we don’t have to choose between them.
 Not that Ballantyne seems hungry for awards. I’ve seen him at awards ceremonies, from the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association’s first Outstanding Leadership Award in 1997 to the Jane Jacobs Award in 2009, and he always looked embarrassed at the attention – consistently directing praise to others.