Marking National Housing Day; reflections on problems and solutions for social housing.

The other day I was at a breakfast forum held by TCHC, CMHC, the city housing department, and similar suspects on National Housing day. It was almost like an excuse for some big shots to serve pancakes. I had a few and there was lots left over. The hall was half full.

The topic was something about new ideas for getting more housing built. They have been trying some new ideas lately and wanted to congratulate each other. The best new idea was to take the money that had been sitting idle for some years, and use it to fix up some buildings.

We have had a situation where all three levels of government were supposed to ante up to clear up the repair backlog in TCHC. I think it was the city government which put its share in. The federal government of course refused and the province is not anteing up until the feds do. Typical Canadian institutional gridlock.

The bad idea was also to free up the money for repairs, because I do not believe that TCHC is yet capable of spending it effectively. It does not seem like the crap Gene Jones was brought in to clean up really has been. It seems the crap cleaned up Jones.

Well, we shall see. Maybe with the dissolution of the "Housing services" subsidiary, money will actually go to repairs and the repairs will be overseen to be sure they are done, and done right. Or the people who were grafting off TCHC before may decide they have won and can go back to business as usual.

TCHC has been going through chief operating officers at a rapid pace. Of course the real problem is that housing in Toronto is being used as a political football. The NDP oriented councillors especially want housing to serve their political purposes. They want to hire battalions of social workers to "improve" the people in social housing whether they want to be or not.

The Liberals will generally favor an "in and out" policy. That is, their solution to the huge waiting list is to kick the people presently in housing out as soon as possible to make room for new residents. They refuse to accept that subsidized housing should be permanent. Rather, people should be there temporarily until they get back on their feet. Maybe 50 years ago that made some sense.

The conservatives, of course, want no money spent on housing at all. They want it to deteriorate until it can all be sold off for pennies on the dollar to private developers with friends in government.

TCHC pretty much cut this conservative idea off when they did something sensible. They remortgaged some of their properties according to their real value, and used the money to start building some new housing. But they are going slow about it.

As developers go, they seem to be reasonably competent. At least the stuff they are putting up looks well planned and livable. But it does not get all that many low income people housed. With the money they should be able to raise, they should be able to do better.

After the pancake eating and speeches part of the event were over, we got a guided tour of the Lawrence park redevelopment. It looks like reasonably good planning, but they are seriously densifying the area and creating no additional low income housing. When they are done there will be the same number of low income units, but twice their number in new condominium units. Is that really all they can get?

I also talked a bit with someone from Atkinson cooperative. I heard a lot about this over the years. Some told me Ballantyne, the TCHC boss at that time, really did not like this idea and placed stern restrictions on it. Like other non equity coops, they had to accept the maintenance company nominated by TCHC, and draw their new tenants from the TCHC "connections" wait list.

She said that this was not true, that they had a good relationship with Ballantyne. I know they had a hell of a fight to get the coop started. The leader who started the move for it was viciously harassed. I think he died shortly after the coop came into being. But he got the coop named after him.

I was not able to ask her some pertinent questions. Mainly, why is it so hard to get any information about Atkinson coop? And, why hasn't their web site been updated since 2011?

I did ask, why have there been no more coops like this? She said that it has to come from within the community. So, people at Alexandra park were uniquely brilliant over all other social housing residents in Toronto.

The truth of the matter is, the social engineers flatly will not allow tenants to control their own lives. It is anathema to their ideology. These people are well dug into the city bureaucracy and political structure, with both the liberal and NDP oriented councilors. A system of tenant self government is going to have to be imposed from above local government, as it was in the UK.

An example of the political mentality was my brief talk with the local MP, who was hanging around. He is a "left" liberal. I started in talking with him. He insisted he was totally in favor of more housing, but the federal and provincial governments needed to fund it.

I suggested that one big reason why there is so much reluctance to fund new public housing is the reputation it has for being poorly managed.

He did not like to hear that, and said something like, this supported conservative arguments against housing.

I said that the reason housing is badly managed is usually it becomes part of the poverty industry. I could have gone on about how large housing complexes end up being run by social work types with no qualifications as property managers. Tenants themselves are in the best position to oversee operation of housing but are sharply supressed by these "social engineers". They are not supposed to control their lives; they are assumed to be defective persons who need to be operated upon.

He snarked back at me that this was conservative jargon.

I said that even conservatives can be half right some of the time.

He snarked that he had never seen that, and that was the end of it.

So, there is the first problem with housing; the hyperpartisan mentality that requires everybody to be part of a party line. Otherwise, you are the enemy. I would not mind this sanctimony so much if the Liberals were not so wrong about so much themselves, and so insulting to low income people.

I also got o speak briefly with the interim, likely to be permanent, director of TCHC, Greg Spearns. I mean, as permanent as a TCHC director seems to be these days. I began the process I had started with Miss Keiko and with Gene Jones before the disappeared. Again, he seemed very interested in my claim of long standing slander and intimidation by TCHC.

So I will have to run off the whole info pack again, and get it up to TCHC HQ soon.

And thanks for the pancakes, Greg. Used "Aunt Jemima", didn't you?