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Let not-for-profits take over some Toronto Community Housing units

Article from the Toronto Star | January 17, 2018

Some 1,000 units in single-family homes and rooming houses currently operated by Toronto Community Housing should be transferred to the not-for-profit sector, city staff say.

And tenant representatives should continue to be appointed to the corporation’s board, “ensuring a tenant voice in the governance of TCHC,” a new staff report reads.

Those recommendations are part of an ongoing transformation of the public housing corporation, the largest landlord in Canada. They will be considered by Mayor John Tory’s executive committee on Jan. 24.

The staff report says the homes currently operated by TCH should be managed by agencies with experience working with vulnerable residents and with the supports needed to handle complex needs.

A separate report on a new entity that will focus solely on seniors’ housing will be ready in the second quarter of 2018, staff say.

There has long been a back-and-forth over what to do with TCH’s standalone properties, which are separate from the townhome and tower complexes that make up the bulk of the corporation’s portfolio.

There are currently 1,170 units in what’s called the “scattered housing” category, including 26 buildings leased to outside agencies for housing purposes, 22 rooming houses operated by TCH and 660 single-family homes owned by the corporation.

The city solicited expressions of interest from not-for-profits and heard back from current agency house operators interested in taking over the properties they currently lease, as well as supportive housing providers and community land trusts interested in obtaining properties.

A plan outlined by staff would see, if council approves the strategy, the complete transfer of agency houses in 2020 and of rooming houses in 2021. It’s unclear by what date the city hopes to have transferred the single-family homes.

Bryan Keshen, president and CEO of the charitable organization Reena, said they have for years been looking to take over the two-storey, detached home they lease from TCH in midtown.

Serving as a home for 14 people with developmental disabilities at risk of being on the street or hospitalized, Keshen said they estimate the space needs $500,000 worth of repairs that TCH hasn’t prioritized. He said the organization can’t commit to investing that amount of money themselves while still on a month-to-month lease.

“As an organization we have a range of models and in that location we’ve been leasing and really looking at an alternate model because a lease model has been really ineffective,” Keshen said. “We’ve been seeking for a while to have that asset transferred to us to give us greater control.”

He said needed repairs leave the property “below anyone’s acceptable standards,” and that Reena has the financial capacity to take control of the space and do that work.

After Tory took office in 2014, he directed an independent task force to make recommendations on the future of the beleaguered corporation, which is facing a massive repair backlog and unprecedented wait list for subsidized housing.

The transfer of standalone properties, staff say, would alleviate $6 million in annual repairs and a $33.9 million backlog. Those repair costs would become the responsibility of not-for-profit agencies.

Anne Woolger, founder of Matthew House, which serves refugee claimants arriving in Toronto who would otherwise be homeless in three downtown homes, including one leased from TCH, said they see the transfer of property as a potential opportunity for expansion.

“Especially if the extra vulnerable ones could be housed in home-like settings, it really can make a world of difference for their whole lives,” she said of the refugees they shelter.

Councillor Gord Perks, who represents Ward 14 (Parkdale-High Park), where there are several single-family homes owned by TCH in gentrifying areas, said council must also be looking to expand the amount of affordable housing in Toronto.

“This doesn’t grow it. This just moves the deck chairs around,” he said, adding that ensuring services are available and that there is a mix of market and units subsidized for low-income households is essential.

Council will have a final say on the plan at a meeting that begins Jan. 31.