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Moving made easy

October 18, 2012

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. [1] 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

The results:

  • 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.


[1] 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.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2012 5:38 pm

    There used to be swapping allowed in TCHC.
    Maybe the story you should have wrote was WHY it was discontinued.

  2. October 18, 2012 5:44 pm

    I had no idea that this system had been tried at TCHC. Can you tell me more? I too would like to know when the system was in place, whether it was an on-line system similar to the one in the UK (I do think that an on-line system is crucial for big providers such as TCHC), and, as you say, why it was discontinued.

  3. Cheryl Hazell permalink
    October 18, 2012 6:37 pm

    I’d like to know more about this too, and why it wasn’t successful.

  4. Laurene Wagner permalink
    October 18, 2012 7:54 pm

    Hi Joy, we allow tenant swaps at OCH where they get self-identified by tenants – at this point without an on-line system. As we look to implement a new IT platform in the next year we are incorporating the opportunity to have tenant swaps and a more effective way to capture households who may be interested. Swaps provide some opportunity to deal with both overhoused and underhoused families who often want to remain in their community. Laurene at OCH

  5. John Corso permalink
    October 19, 2012 1:54 am

    The program was successful, tenants were able to move easily from one unit to another. I was told that the condition of the units was the problem, apparently the units were taken “as is” but repairs were required required ( i guess TCHC didn’t want to make the repairs). Also, i think there were issues of tenants moving into a unit then not liking the building and wanting to move again. To my knowledge most people were satisfied with the swap program

    • March 21, 2013 8:24 pm

      John is this you? It’s Stephen Mc Ilvenna. I’m in the UK now. God I hope it’s you, I’ve been looking for you forever.

  6. October 19, 2012 9:29 am

    At their roots, welfare models have a tendency towards isolationism. In the great review of 1938, people were cut off relief for three important reasons in addition to failing the needs test: Having a car, having a radio and having a telephone. In other words, it became important that you not have means to get to the outside world, to hear about the outside world, or to communicate with it. In other words, connection was considered a luxury and isolation not just punishment but also your fate.
    So where am I heading with this? I see an institutional incapacity to self-move to be not just a part of the culture of control, but also a small vestige of the isolationist impulses deep in the DNA of rules that govern subsidized housing

  7. October 22, 2012 10:56 am

    The conditions of Danzig is portrayed in one of Toronto Star Columnist Joe Fiorito’s articles.
    I had the honor of meeting with Joe when my apartment building was being treated for cockroaches and ants…about another matter all together. Check out his views of the conditions of TCHC and it’s victims. I know in my building at 55 The Esplanade, the building is falling apart and it is full of black mould on the 8Th floor ceiling and vermin. So many tenants have passed away this year and I know the conditions of this building has contributed to their early deaths.
    I took pictures of apt #610 being restored after a woman in a wheelchair lived and died in her own feces. 21 St. Joseph Street has the same problems, as I was offered two one bedroom
    units last April before my rent was raised to market. I am so disappointed with TCHC as I have lived in their buildings for over 30 years as a single parent. Something must be done to help people that live in these conditions!

  8. John Corso permalink
    October 23, 2012 4:10 pm

    I found this in a MTHA document while at the Reference Library. Sorry I don’t have a date on this

    TRANSFERS
    MTHA permits tenants to transfer where units are not an appropriate size or for reasons of special tenant need. In the fall of 1988, approximately 3,500 households had been approved for transfer.
    The waiting time between being approved for a transfer and actually having it affected, has stood anywhere from two to three years, depending on where tenants wish to be relocated. In the past few years there have been more tenants who are overhoused and awaiting transfers than tenants who are underhoused and awaiting transfers. This anomaly has arisen due to the lethargy of overhoused tenants when faced with a request to move.
    In May 1987, after considerable pressure from tenants in Scarborough, MTHA reviewed opportunities for speeding transfers. One possibility was a program where tenants were permitted to arrange their own transfers. This experiment was tried for three months beginning October in a portion of Scarborough.
    In spite of considerable interest in this program, the experiment was not successful. It seemed that the major stumbling block was again the unwillingness of overhoused tenants to participate. All other aspects of the program
    – including MTHA’s maintenance proposals, a registration system for tenants, paper work arrangements within MTHA
    – appeared to be appropriate and workable. Underhoused tenants seemed most anxious to arrange swaps and many of them called three or four registered tenants with appropriate sized units, but given the reluctance of the overhoused to move, the You Swap program only resulted in a dozen transfers.
    In the summer of 1988 a second experiment was tried. Four Special Project Clerks were hired within the Tenant Placement Branch and their job was simply to work on relocating overhoused tenants. This experiment has proved to be exceptionally useful. The four clerks cleared almost 200 transfers in August 1988 and that level of activity has been maintained. The contract for these four staff has since been extended through to the end of May 1989.
    If transfer activity continues at this rate, it is hoped that by the middle of 1989 the average waiting time between having a transfer approved and having it actually affected will be less than 12 months.
    MTHA should work toward a goal of affecting transfers within six months of their approval. There seems to be no reason why this kind of goal cannot be reached early in 1990. The transfer program should be monitored on a quarterly basis to ensure it remains productive and successful.

    • October 23, 2012 4:32 pm

      In 1988, Cityhome was only 10 years old as I believe I applyed for this housing in 1978.
      I was offered a Jr. One bedroom and lived there till my son turned 5 and then I was offered a two bedroom apartment in 1985. Over-housed and under-housed was not an issue back then as it is now. As I said before the conditions of these TCHC apartments have run-down over the past 30 years. To be transfered from one to another makes no sense. Just keep building new housing and renovating the existing units rather that kicking tenants around.
      That’s what I have to say about MTHA.

    • October 23, 2012 4:48 pm

      John, thanks so much for unearthing this information. A very helpful contribution to the discussion. I wonder if the MTHA experience would be different today, where provincial regulations REQUIRE over-housed tenants to move. Perhaps those tenants would prefer to arrange their own moves rather than wait for whatever TCHC offers.

      I saw a paper from the UK Housing Exchange that said that “24% [of Housing Exchange participants] cite overcrowding as their reason for moving while 23% are looking to downsize.” Wonder what the ratio of over-housed to under-housed residents are on the TCHC list. Does anyone know?

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