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Strength comes from within

July 24, 2012

Danzig Street – the Toronto Community Housing neighbourhood that lost two young residents and saw another 25 wounded last week — has already received more than enough cheap advice from outsiders like me.

Swifter arrests. Longer sentences. More security cameras, youth workers, outreach programs, street patrols, evictions, deportations. The list of solutions goes on and on.

I don’t know enough to sift the good ideas from the bad. All I know is that the residents of Danzig Street have been treated far differently from those who live on my own street.

My own Ashdale Avenue has had its share of violence. Our street was home to a letter-bomber. A man was shot in broad daylight right in front of my house.  A woman was murdered by her husband.

The letter-bomber story put Ashdale Avenue on the front page. But I don’t recall anyone scolding Ashdale residents about our marital status, work history or birth control practices. The public respected us as victims and bystanders, not parties to the crime.

Nor was Ashdale Avenue seen as a problem that needed to be solved. There are no guards, no cameras, and no outreach workers on our street. We don’t ask permission to host parties. We don’t expect to see the police unless we call them. We reckon that, barring emergencies, we can take care of ourselves.

Can Danzig Street take care of itself?

I think it has no choice. No police force, no agency and no landlord — not even a social housing landlord — can substitute for the dense network of moms and dads, aunties and grand-dads, brothers and sisters, friends, teachers, librarians, pastors and shop owners that keep a neighbourhood safe.

But I do believe there are things Toronto Community Housing can do – and has done — to help residents help themselves. Here’s a sampling:

Jobs for youth. If “the best social program is a job” then TCHC deserves a gold star.

A 2010 TCHC policy requires contractors to allot 20% of their contract’s value to hiring TCHC youth, or providing apprenticeships, scholarships, internships or training. In Jane Finch, TCHC partnered with Carpenters’ Local 27 to put youth to work renovating their own buildings.In Regent Park TCHC spurred Sobeys, Tim Horton’s and RBC into hiring over 130 tenants.  There have been job fairs, training programs, summer jobs and internships. If every business offered half the opportunities TCHC did, the city would be a better place.

Winning respect. Mayor Ford knows that winners on the sports field don’t need guns to prove themselves. So does TCHC.

In 2010 TCHC partnered with UofT to find Toronto’s Next Top Athlete. More than 200 TCHC youth participated, with 8 winning scholarships for professional training. TCHC has organized a “Rookie League” with the Blue Jays, soccer clinics and tournaments, after-school basketball . . . the list goes on and on.

Preventing crime. TCHC’s Social Investment Fund was created to support tenants’ own initiatives for improving their communities. Is it any surprise that tenants put their children and youth first?

In 2010 the Fund supported a Walk Safe program for children; music, art and media programs “to reach out to youth who have hidden talent;” initiatives to match youth with elders and community leaders; plus intriguing-sounding programs such as 10,000 Youth Will Stand, Eye on the Sparrow for 6 – 12 year olds, YES TV for youth entrepreneurs, a Young and Potential Fathers Group, Rites of Passage.

I didn’t see a list for 2011/2012 programs, but I’m hoping there is one.  What better way to show respect for tenants than investing in the projects they develop themselves.

Kicking out the bad guys?

Landlords have one other important power: the power to evict.

I believe TCHC has a duty to evict tenants who disturb, harass, threaten or injure other tenants. But as a crime prevention strategy, just “evicting the bad guys” has a lot of holes.

First of all, landlords can only evict tenants – not visitors, and not people who aren’t on the lease. You may want to evict a teenaged troublemaker, but chances are it’s his mom’s name that’s on the lease. It is she, and the other children in the home, that will end up homeless.  (And of course, there is nothing to stop that troublemaker hopping on the bus back to his old neighbourhood with a grudge and a gun. Evictions don’t make you less of a criminal, they just move you somewhere else.)

Second, landlords can evict tenants only if they breach the lease.  Simply “being a criminal” is not grounds for an eviction; crimes must “affect the character of the premises” or directly affect tenants or the landlord. As the Landlord and Tenant Board Guideline on Eviction for an Illegal Act or Business says, robbing other tenants may be grounds for eviction, but robbing the convenience store across the street is not.

Third, evictions depend on evidence. That usually requires other tenants to set aside personal loyalties and the fear of retribution, make a complaint, and in some cases be willing to testify at the Landlord and Tenant Board. I know myself how reluctant I am to “create bad feeling” by complaining against a neighbour. I don’t blame any tenant for holding back.

Keeping the “good guys”

In my view, any “bad guys” strategy also needs a “good guys” strategy – a plan for retaining and supporting the local leaders, the up-and-comers and the solid citizens that are the bedrock of any successful neighbourhood.

Suggestions?

Change the rent subsidy system, and stop penalizing people for getting jobs. The Province has already started work on this issue, but more needs to be done.

Welcome back university grads. It was a Lawrence Heights tenant that told me about college grads who were unable to return home because there were no market rent units in their neighbourhood. It should be easy to move around subsidies to make their return possible. Why not?

Utterly reject the “welfarization” of social housing. Underpinning much of the media’s Danzig Street coverage is the notion that social housing is a welfare program, and anyone who stays there is “stuck.” I don’t buy it. I would describe a community with low turnover as “stable,” and the people who live in it “settled.”

A permanent home is a good thing. It is why social housing was created.  It’s time for TCHC tenants to stand proud, and for TCHC to stand right behind them.

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jean Stevenson permalink
    July 24, 2012 12:26 pm

    Well done Joy. Much needed perspective ,information and suggestions.
    Jean Stevenson

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