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Welcome the new, keep the old

October 3, 2012

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?[1]

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.


[1] 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.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Jean Stevenson permalink
    October 3, 2012 1:26 pm

    Joy

    Thank you so much for this long overdue and much needed defense of Derek Ballantyne; the balanced presentation of his significant accomplishments while at TCHC and for using the public forum of your blog for this finally- at long lost to be shouted out loud.

    Many others who well know Derek’s dedication to social housing and his extradinary contribution to TCHC were appalled by the lynching that was carried out by the Ford brothers but did not have such a forum &/or were blindsided/made fearful by the power of the bully energy.

    On behalf of all of those ‘others’ – thank you for finally saying what needed to be said.

    Jean Stevenson

  2. Brian Iler permalink
    October 3, 2012 2:02 pm

    Derek was at the Daniels Spectrum opening, and I did take the opportunity to express my appreciation to him for his vision and leadership that the Daniels Spectrum project is such a fine example of.

    Thanks, Joy, for saying it so well here.

  3. Pat Thompson permalink
    October 3, 2012 2:40 pm

    Bravo.

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. October 3, 2012 2:41 pm

    Kudos to you Joy for helping us to remember the many accomplishments of Derek Ballantyne. In his busy schedule with TCHC he also took a great deal of time to share what he had learned with others in the housing sector with the goal of helping people to see that housing is a multi-disciplinary business attracting a wide range of skill sets. At ONPHA he not only helped shape the association but also served as a key teacher and mentor to many. In the end, he fell victim to political stupidity and beacme collateral damage. I, for one, am glad he still stays in touch with the sector. We need more Derek Ballantynes, not fewer.

  5. Catherine Boucher permalink
    October 3, 2012 3:47 pm

    From here in Ottawa, outside the navel of the universe, the vicious and undeserved attacks on someone who always put the well being of the tenants and the sector first were received with shock and dismay.
    Derek started his magnificent contribution to social housing as the volunteer president of my Board of directors at CCOC (Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation). He brought great vision and the rigour we needed to become a nationally recognized leader in the social housing sector. And he did this as a volunteer!
    He was instrumental in so many positive firsts: the beginnings of ONPHA in Thunder Bay, sitting around the hotel pool at midnight working out a strategy to bring everyone along. During his tenure at City Living, Ottawa’s MNP, he championed meaningful tenant participation. Bringing those skills to the mountain that is Toronto, he oversaw the amalgamation of three very different housing corporations, each with its own entrenched way of doing things.
    And he turned around that great behemoth of a ship, bringing to it the best of what he did back here, attracting bright lights to work with him, and always keeping tenants in the forefront of TCHC’s work.
    Tall poppy that he is, Derek took much of the brunt of the idiocy that came with the new mayor and his henchmen.
    And let’s admit it, we are all guilty of not standing up to those bullies.
    I know Derek would be the last to want a building named after him, but it would be a fine and fitting tribute, even though a very modest one given his contribution.
    Thanks Joy, for saying what we all know.

    • Glenn Allen permalink
      October 3, 2012 5:25 pm

      Ah jeez CB, you took the words right out of my mouth!! I remember joking that we, CCOC, taught Derek everything he knew about social housing, and maybe there’s a nugget of truth in that, but far more germane is that you and Derek were a formidable team. It’s not so far-fetched to say that the pair of you taught most everyone in the sector all we know about how social housing could and should be, and sometimes is on a good day.

  6. October 3, 2012 5:40 pm

    I have been with TCHC for 30 years and since 2001 when they amalgamated into one entity
    there has been nothing but grief towards tenants, over-housing became an issue and under-housing even more of an issue. The buildings are old and falling apart; cockroach and bedbug infested and most TCHC buildings are over 30 years old. Derek Ballantyne bought himself a new townhouse in the new Regent Park renovation, it was questioned and excused. We must give credit to the Tenants who have paid their rent on time and have put up with all the terrorism that TCHC has caused by raising rents and not maintaining their units. I have taken pictures of the units that TCHC are offering future tenants and the units are terrible. So I have made my new choices for housing and that would be the brand new housing that TCHC has, but are not active as they call it. I know Gene Jones has a lot to deal with and big shoes to fill, let’s see if he can do it.

  7. September 3, 2013 9:55 am

    The Daniels corporation was actually a housing construction partner with some of the affordable housing providers, up until the PCs and Harris eliminated construction of all new non profit housing around the summer of 1995, a decision that no doubt brought hell upon low income single mother families with their children, especially those trying to escape abusive relationships, seniors, the disabled and other vulnerable, marginalized and unfairly stigmatized members of Canadian society, for what was truly a dark time for social justice in this part of the country.. : (

  8. September 3, 2013 3:46 pm

    “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?

    Harris and his PC’s were the beginning of the end of Social Housing and Welfare as we knew it in 1995. There are no more Subsidy of rents for those who need it, rent-controlled has taken it’s place; and Welfare has become Ontario Works that is merely a loan for those with less than $600.00 in the bank, otherwise they get cut-off and made to repay.

    We are living in the land of the rich in Toronto; and who are the investors of condominiums, Rob Ford and his thugs.Social Housing is being sold off to pay for what?

    Gene Jones is available and this is a good thing, but will he be able to help the ones that need help the most?

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