second TCHC meeting

Well, I should blog something about the second "invite to community leaders" get together I attended with Toronto Community Housing. This time they held it at Senator Croll, with all the heat problems. It got fairly sweltering. At least we did not have cockroaches or worse crawling all around us.

They send us invites by letter, so we do not have all the cause pimps types who have been recruited to act as the tenant eyes and ears for various political networks. And mouths. They were not here this time. Even Dan King was not there. About the only one of these "Save our Housing" sycophants was Wally Simpson. He and I are all that are left now from the good old days.

The issues are still the same, after all these years. I forgot to bring a notebook, so my description of the proceedings will not be as precise as before. There were not so many people complaining about bedbugs, slob maintenance staff, and the roof falling in. We got more into the details of this new tenant associations plan.

One woman hit the nail on the head right from the start. In every building one person seems to do everything, whether you have tenant reps or a tenant association. I might have said something about that. The one in my building who does everything was there. She does all this because she obviously wants to do it very badly.

That is the case with most of these building supremos. But why are these people so obsessed with gaining power that does not benefit them in any material way? Why do they shove aside attempts to set up a more collegial way of doing things and why do people let them get away with it?

Sometimes these people prove to be crooks but these usually do not last long. The housing company social police move in on them. Some of them are really cunning and hold off the hounds for awhile before departing with their stealings. From when I was involved in the tenant associations initiative around the turn of the century, Larry Heitner and Sandy Nimmo came to mind.

Dandy Sandy was especially cute. She knew how to get everybody convinced she was working for them, while screwing everybody. She took over as head of what was left of the housing tenants association's umbrella organization. This had been mostly from the old Cityhome, which if it did not encourage tenant's associations, at least was not almost psychotically opposed to them.

Somehow the group came to be called THAT, ( Toronto Housing Association of Tenants ) She effectively forced a less cunning crook, Larry Heitner, out, to the joy of the tenant services department at the new Toronto Housing, run by Evelyn Murialdo. Heitner became a 'tenant consultant' for awhile, but eventually was encouraged by housing to move to Montreal.

She also repelled the attempt by Federation of Metro Tenants Associations to take control of the group, again to the pleasure of aunt Evelyn. But it eventually became clear even to Evelyn that Sandy has actually come to an accord with the FMTA and was feeding them confidential information, including a list of all the active tenants in all the TCHC buildings. Actually, I think it was still MTHCL at that point.

She also got a whole pile of money from tenant services to buy off dissent and create some sorts of programs. I don't know what they were but they never happened. She pocketed the money, stopped paying her rent and six months later left Toronto. She said she was moving to New Zealand.

Among the biggest of the devoted dunces to follow her to the end were Albert Hoogenboom and Cliff Martin. Wally Simpson was totally loyal to the housing company and got pushed out by Sandy, as did Vance Latchford. I also got frozen out; could not find out when the meetings were happening.

Other sleazy people who were initially recruited as the new "tenant reps" to help destroy tenant associations were Mary Crow and Hank Snow. Crow helped the mentally disabled people in her building to fill out their monthly income reports and deposit their money. She used one calculation for the amount to pay the landlord and another to return to the tenant, and pocketed the difference.

Snow was an addict who gave the local drug gang complete control over his building in return for his supply of goodies. He could appear as a charming old rustic from the maritimes. After the Sandy affair the housing gestapo got rid of the outright crooked tenant reps, refusing to tolerate anyone who profited from their positions.

The ultimate was when Murialdo moaned to me about not knowing what do do about people who will do anything for control. Haw, haw, haw. She is now retired.

But this is the problem with anything where there is money or power available; there will be some bastard trying to grab it. This is the issue with tenant associations. It is the same with the Tenant Management Organizations in the UK and housing cooperatives everywhere; there has to be a system of monitoring and intervention when things go wrong.

Who runs this system? Ideally, an umbrella organization of successful tenant groups, but it takes a very long time for that to develop. While this development is going on, any kind of real tenant democracy will be under attack from the left and right wings, both of whom have an ideological hatred of people actually running their own lives.

However, I say that, like democracy itself, tenant self governance is the worst possible system, except for all the others that keep being tried.

The tenant rep system is not working particularly well in my building. We have a couple of people who have been encouraged to take control of tenant affairs, including the garden club. All these activities are deteriorating because they want to control everything, refusing to let people communicate except through them.

So, people get fed up with it and withdraw. The bossy people are left doing everything themselves. When they get tired of it, and people are sufficiently tired of them, I will again propose a more anarchic system of government, where people can communicate directly and take on what they want to take on, and make decisions by consensus.

But back to the meeting. I finally got to ask the question I wanted to ask last week. I told them my name and suggested they had better remember it. There could be plenty of legal trouble in the future if they want to start harassing me again. I told them I had been around since the last attempt to set up network of tenant's associations in Toronto Housing and I observed the very nice way in which that was thugged out of existence.

Now the question is; given the vulnerability of most social housing residents to most forms of harassment, the fact that there are many elements within the housing bureaucracy who really will not like this idea, how can the safety and peace of mind of those tenants who participate in these associations be assured? The woman at the mike at the front was obviously flustered by this question and could not give any coherent answer. She mumbled something about us being legally protected.

I hope that registered with whoever was going to be reading the transcripts that were going to be made of this meeting. But I think I already blogged enough at the last meeting, about some of the ways tenants can become targets; not just by housing or private management bureaucrats, but by political groups or bully cliques within the buildings.

I do not know if that will nix me from getting another invite to these meetings. It seems they will go on holding hem. I want to see how they propose to get what they propose through the housing board and through city council.

I know that the McGuinty government, not long after taking office, passed legislation which gave the social housing tenants the right to self manage or to form associations, but I have heard little about it since then. But demanding this would be the same thing as when the tenant representation system was demanded, it was in effect demanding that the law be complied with.

That is how they got that system through council back then, but it was also rigged so that the housing gestapo had real control and usually just hand picked the tenant reps. A system of tenants associations would be harder to rig because, as I said, if there is just one or two people taking control everybody else loses interest and it becomes obviously dysfunctional. You can't handpick a whole association like you can one or two reps.

But how would elections to the associations be supervised? The obvious thing would be to let the tenants run it themselves, but by what voting methods? This sounds like a job for...( drum rolls please )... Voting Systems Super Nerds from Fair Vote Canada.

I have not got around to asking the education committee at FVC how they would like to give talks to tenants about voting systems. I will have a hard time contacting them at present, because I have been cut off from the e-mail list due to the politics going on there now, which I have blogged muchly about already.

What kind of voting system would work best for a tenant's association in an apartment building? I think the chorus of nerds would thunder; Single Transferable Vote! Get someone out here with the software for running the vote. Of course, a few might suggest single non transferable vote.

But as I have said before, the fairest elections do not matter if there is no system within which democracy can work. The tenant association must be free to represent the tenant's interests against the housing company. This means that the concepts of conflict of interest and power imbalance must be understood.

So much I could talk about at this meeting, and most of what I say could not even be comprehended by these people. There are such things in the world as assisted ownership for people who would like to have a home, supervised housing for people with behavioral problems, modular housing which reduces construction costs and enables people to move to where jobs are.

But right now they are talking about getting their buildings in a state of repair. TCHC now has a program, or thinks it does, to repair units which have become uninhabitable and get people off the wait list and into them. But do they have people capable of repairing the units? People who know good work from bad who can supervise the repairs and unsure quality and economy?

I am sure the folks at the west end of the room looking east were getting tired of hearing "we've heard it before". But we have. They are doubling the money for participatory budgeting". This is not what I want to hear. Things should be repaired when needed and sufficient money should be set aside. This is setting an insufficient pool of money per year for repairs and then letting people debate over who gets the money this year and who waits.

The proper way to run a building is to have a repair schedule and a building maintenance fund. That is, when the building is opened, money is set aside in a trust fund to handle repairs. A regular cycle of maintenance is set up; things get replaced on schedule instead of whenever they break down. For example, most things mechanical need to be replaced after 15 years, so replace them every 15 years using the building fund accumulated annual contributions plus interest.

This is how well run private housing is managed. This is how the old "legacy" housing providers, which were munched into TCHC, mostly worked. I think the city owned ones did and the less well run provincially owned ones did not. But the Rae government seized the hosing funds and used them to build new housing; the really cheap, ticky tacky buildings put up during the Rae years.

If they did not do so under the advice of the "welfare housing" bureaucrats and the "social engineers" on the "left", then they certainly followed their mentality. They just wanted lots of really cheap housing thrown up, because they are only going to last twenty years anyway, because the people living in them are idiots who will destroy it.

The right wing welfare bureaucrats think social housing should be "transit housing", someplace to stick people until they get jobs and move on. There should be no sense of community; they should instead be as wretched as possible to encourage people to move on, in line with the general philosophy about social services.

Of course the social engineers also want to get people "with issues" into housing so they can work on their heads with the army of social workers and psychologists the government will not let them hire. People who are just regular folks who need a place to live that they can afford are "unit blockers".

None of these people have any conception of social housing simply as a public utility; a way of providing shelter in the same way that public transportation and recreation facilities, and education are provided. They are contemptuous of the people living here, and they are still the majority of the housing staff.

Gene Jones, the new housing manager, had better watch his back. These people are well connected into the city housing department and the "left" clique on city council. The middle of the road group on council is small and the right wing group is only really interested in selling off housing.

So much for participatory dividing up of an insufficient pie. What I really want to see is more detail about how these tenant associations will work, as do some others in the room. What will be the criteria for a functioning or dysfunctional tenant association? The housing staff do not seem to have this thought out yet.

Enough about this meeting. Let them take their idea back to the drawing board and call us together again when they have worked on it some more. tr