Moving made easy
After the tragic shooting on Danzig Street, three Toronto Community Housing residents told the media they wanted to move out of the neighbourhood.
They could have a long wait.
TCHC tenants who want to move (and keep their housing subsidy) must apply to join the Internal Transfer list – the list that allows them to move to another TCHC unit.  Simply living near a murder site won’t put you at the top of that list. Top priority is given to victims of domestic violence. Then come tenants who are over-housed.
A long, desperate line
Then come those who might be best described as “the desperate” – tenants who must move because:
- a fire or flood has made their unit uninhabitable
- their unit is detrimental to their health, or they need an accessible apartment or life-sustaining medical equipment that can’t fit in their unit
- they have been a victim of criminal activity, criminal harassment or require protection as a witness of a crime
- they need two or more additional bedrooms to meet their family’s needs (such as a family of eight squeezed into a two-bedroom apartment) or to allow children to be re-united with their parents.
And then comes everyone else: people who are spending hours crossing the city to a job or school; tenants who need medical or other services in another part of town; those who said “yes” to a unit they hated, just because they were desperate for anything they could afford; and those who simply want to move.
It adds up to over 11,000 households on the Internal Transfer list. Given that only 1600 households on the transfer list were housed last year, it could take 7 years to move the people on the list now, not to mention those who will join it during those years.
Is it any wonder a recent TCHC staff report says, “Internal transfers are the source of one of the highest number of inquiries and complaints to the company.”
What if tenants could organize their own moves?
Right now, tenants who need to move can do nothing but apply, wait and complain. But what if they could find their own unit, rather than waiting for Toronto Community Housing to do it for them?
It’s working in the UK. In 2004, Circle Anglia – a 61,000 unit social housing provider – saw their tenants languishing on a waiting list. They also saw the public costs: welfare payments to tenants who couldn’t move to take up jobs; paid caregivers because tenants couldn’t move close to ailing family members; children in care because their parents didn’t have room for them.
To break the log-jam, they set up an online Housing Exchange. Tenants could stay on the official waiting list. But they could also arrange their own unit swap – directly contacting other Circle tenants looking for a different unit.
If you visit the Housing Exchange website you’ll see how simple the process is. Simply register, describe the unit you have, and search for a match. You can do three-way swaps as well. Once you’ve found a unit, you get your landlord’s approval. It’s that easy. And it’s free.
80 percent of tenants move within six months
- Less waiting. Eighty per cent of tenants using the Housing Exchange find their match within six months, and many move within only six weeks.
- Lower costs. Exchanges costs the landlord around 1/3 the cost of a regular transfer. That’s partly because the Housing Exchange cuts out the middle-man – no need to process applications, manage a waiting list, hear appeals or show units. But it’s mostly because units are exchanged “as is.” That means tenants who are eager to move have an incentive to spruce up their units.
- Higher tenant satisfaction. Unlike traditional waiting lists, where tenants are expected to take the first vacant unit on offer, tenants can choose the unit they want. They might make some compromises for a quick move. Or they might pick through dozens of offers before finding the right match. The choice is theirs.
Circle’s Housing Exchange was so successful that they began marketing it to other housing providers for a fee. Far from being a drain on Circle’s housing budget, the Housing Exchange is now a revenue generator.
Now the UK’s Conservative government is requiring all social housing landlords to participate in a nation-wide home swap system. The aim is not just good customer service, although that’s part of it. The government recognized the inability of social housing tenants to move nearer to jobs or family was costing the UK economy 542 Million pounds per year.
A true self-help solution
At its October 22nd meeting, TCHC’s Board of Directors will be receiving a report on the Transfer Policy from their Tenant and Community Services Committee. The report recommends some useful ideas to improve communication and create a tighter, fairer and more consistent process. But these changes won’t speed up the seven-year wait.
Perhaps it’s time to think bigger. Let’s harness the energies of the 11,000 households on the list — one-fifth of all TCHC tenants! — to help themselves.
Why not? After all, under the current system, they’re not going anywhere.
 To move out of TCHC into another subsidized unit, they would need to join the over 66,000 households on the Housing Connections waiting list.