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TCHC: Big, bold . . . and BETTER

September 29, 2015

The Mayor’s Task Force on TCHC has been mandated to consider “big and bold” ideas for TCHC’s future.

They are needed. Getting it Done, TCHC’s response to the recommendations in the Mayor’s Task Force’s Interim Report, points the way with great ideas — 60 new cleaners, community safety officers assigned to regular beats, the possibility of live-in supers, and the inspiring Re-Set initiative. But I confess that I, backed by decades of experience, lack confidence that TCHC will be able to execute these great ideas without structural change.

The challenges TCHC faces are not new. More than forty years ago, the landmark Dennis & Fish study, Programs in search of a policy (1972) concluded Canada’s public housing was stigmatizing, expensive, badly located and insensitively managed. The study’s recommendations led to the end of big public housing projects and the rise of community-based non-profit and co-op housing, but TCHC inherited the legacy of these early public housing buildings.

Fifteen years ago, the City amalgamated this public housing stock with Toronto’s Cityhome and Metro Toronto’s Housing Company, using little more than back-of-the-envelope thinking. Add in an entirely inadequate funding formula, and it’s hard to imagine even the most thoughtful action plans making much headway.

Solutions that make the upheaval worthwhile

There is no lack of ideas for revamping TCHC – everything from making TCHC a City department to selling off the entire stock to fund rent supplements. But before we contemplate a new round of bold changes, let’s stop to consider what we hope to achieve.

We know that structural change disrupts tenants’ lives, puts workplans on hold, and, at least in the short term, diverts money from tenant service to pay for lawyers, business planners and HR experts. That means any solution must make the upheaval worthwhile. It must produce better results for tenants, for neighbourhoods and for Toronto.

What does “better” look like?

I hope the Mayor’s Task Force will create its own checklist to evaluate any proposals to restructure TCHC. Here are seven questions I’d like to see on the list.

  1. Does the change increase responsiveness to tenants? What is the structure that would put staff in every medium-sized building, and ensure consistent staffing at even the smallest sites – staff who would take responsibility for their community, know every tenant’s name, spot problems before they become crises, and follow up on problems when they arise?
    Increased responsiveness will mean redeploying resources from TCHC head office into the field. It will also mean giving up on “one size fits all” policies and standards. The aim will be to ensure the seniors in Etobicoke and the street veterans at Dundas and Sherbourne each get what they need and want – even if those things are quite different.
  2. Does it promote tenant self-determination? What changes would make it easiest for tenants to make good things happen in their buildings and neighbourhood, without climbing through layers of bureaucracy? And what changes – including changes to both provincial and municipal policy – will help them enjoy the same opportunities as everyone else to fix up their units, earn money, save money, or move when they want to?
  3. Does it lead to stronger neighbourhoods? – with increased connection to local services, and opportunities for TCHC tenants to work alongside neighbouring businesses and residents for the good of the entire district.
  4. Does it take full advantage of the benefits of scale? TCHC’s development, re-development and revitalization capacity has no equal anywhere in the non-profit sector. There may be other activities, such as government relations and IT, where big really is better. Good structural changes would take full advantage these economies of scale to serve not only TCHC, but non-profit and co-op housing providers as well, without affecting the autonomy of those providers.
  5. Does it offer “accountability without the drama?” Last year I wrote a blog about the harms caused by the “hyper-politicization” of TCHC. They include abrupt changes in leadership, the exorbitant costs of dancing to the media’s tune, and the price tenants pay with every demeaning comment following each news article. We need a structure that restores TCHC’s chief accountability to its present and future tenants, that promotes long-term planning, and ensures decisions are based on evidence and experience.
  6. Does it protect the public’s investment by ensuring continued control over public lands, either through direct municipal ownership, a land trust or non-profit ownership?
  7. Does it engage civil society to promote the wellbeing of tenants and neighbourhoods? In some ways this is a “bonus outcome.” Most private and non-profit landlords operate well with minimal public involvement. But I look at the enormous public enthusiasm that led to the employment opportunities, sports facilities, arts programs, and so much more in Regent Park. I look at the ability of the United Way or the Toronto Community Foundation to bring all sorts of people together in a common cause. And I think, “why not?”

What changes would you like to see?

Over the past few years I have enjoyed many conversations about the possibilities for a renewed TCHC. I hope to explore some of the strengths and weaknesses of these options in upcoming blog posts.

In the meantime, is there anything you would add – or subtract! – from my “outcomes checklist?” What do you think is the measure of a “big, bold and better” idea for TCHC?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2015 11:56 am

    I would like to congratulate Joy Connelly for bringing these questions to light about TCHC and affordable housing in Toronto.

    I applied to Cityhome in the 70’s and as an abused single Mother as of 1982, I was able to secure a Jr. one-bedroom at Henry Lane Terrace with my 2 year old son; three years later I was able to move to a two-bedroom unit on The Esplanade where I was until two years ago when I was forced to move to a one bedroom again to secure subsidy as an unemployed senior.

    The new buildings with TCHC are not subsidized but rent controlled. A single person must make at least $40,000 per year to be able to afford these units at TCHC.
    I believe I have seen it all in the 33 years that I have lived in TCHC with all the problems…
    I have been evicted many times because I could not pay market rent and I fought for repairs that were never done until I moved out of the unit and the rent was made market rent again. I cried when I saw my 2 bedroom apartment after they fixed it up after I had lived there for 28 years. The only way I found a one bedroom that was inhabitable was when a neighbour on my floor was found dead…being over-housed and paying market rent I was forced to make 3 choices for 1 bedrooms and they were in horrible condition with people lined up to see them. There have been so many deaths in my building because of neglect for the disabled and substance abuse. Drug dealing is evident and cameras must be installed. These tenants slip through the cracks in TCHC.

    I don’t know if there are solutions unless we amalgamate with Non-Profit and Co-Ops.
    Where the Tenants make sure everything is up to standards and safe for all with well being.

    • Antoinette Schokman-De Zilva permalink
      September 29, 2015 2:23 pm

      Fight to ask for these numbers to be reinstated, Des Jones. Until then this Mayor will continue to give millions (and I mean many millions) away while ignoring your and our suffering:
      Mayor Tory will not reinstate the dollar numbers he awards private construction companies that were always on the TCHC website for years and years. Why does this Mayor need to hide these numbers?!

  2. Antoinette Schokman-De Zilva permalink
    September 29, 2015 2:20 pm

    Yet, Mayor Tory will not reinstate the dollar numbers he awards private construction companies that were always on the TCHC website for years and years. Why does this Mayor need to hide these numbers?!

  3. Jim Dimanis permalink
    September 29, 2015 4:28 pm

    I would add that any changes or “big picture” thinking, must allow for a change in culture, concomitant with staff training and development. Any change of this magnitude requires a committed management team, proper training, and an acknowledgement that in order for good change to happen, it takes a well thought out change management plan, and an accountable leadership team to make it happen.

    In order for anything of substance to take root, the culture at TCHC must evolve into one that embraces personal accountability, where staff at all levels lead by example, and take responsibility for their actions. As Peter Drucker rightfully said, culture eats strategy for breakfast, and changing a culture is hard work.

    In closing, this doesn’t happen unless the leadership team injects passion into everything they do, and demonstrate a “roll up your sleeves” attitude, right alongside the front line staff.

    Bottom line, everyone will have to work harder than ever before, if they want TCHC to succeed.

  4. September 30, 2015 12:13 am

    Excellent article Joy!
    I do worry that the lack of resident input undermines the good intentions of the Task Force. If changes to TCHC do improve responsiveness to tenants, foster tenant self-determination and thus stronger neighbourhoods, the changes should attain what is hoped for.
    But without tenant engagement and more importantly, the right given to tenants to re-shape their residences to fit the realities they know, it will fail, chiefly because the people most affected by the changes i.e. those living in Toronto Community Housing, were AGAIN the least consulted.

  5. Antoinette Schokman-De Zilva permalink
    April 20, 2016 6:01 pm

    Still no transparency by the Mayor of Toronto or the Province for how many billions are being “gifted” to families who control construction in Ontario, particularly Toronto!!! Is organized crime controlling our politicians?


  1. Five Task Force ideas that will change tenants’ lives | Opening the Window

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