The Mayor has noticed that TCHC is a mess and a disgrace. He wants to know what do do about it. One of his measures has been to hold a series of community consultations with the residents of TCHC. I even wrote out a full report and went back to one of the later forums, to hand it directly to him and his secretary. It is reproduced below.
These forums were quite a show. We had the inevitable NDP politician get up and start pumping "The Party" for the next election. He even butted into the line at the mike.
There was not so much of the "self hating" TCHC resident in evidence. But I did hear one person repeating the nonsense about how people should not stay forever in housing, it should not become multigenerational, etc. This is the anti-welfare mythology of social recipients as people who are defective, who need to be worked on, and that housing is a "welfare" program.
I got up and spoke. I pointed out that Canada is relatively new to running social housing. Other nations have been at it a lot longer and learned how to do it right. Some European nations have 60% of their populations in social housing and there is no stigma attached.
They all made the same mistakes and learned that coercive management does not work. The only thing that works is to let the tenants run it themselves. In fact, make them run it themselves even if they do not want to.
Sue Ane Levy was at the forum and did some interesting twittering about it. I can't really stomach the publication she works for, Toronto Sun, although it is less obnoxious than it used to be. I like her columns on the arrogance and corruption of fake "left" groups and actors.
I am not impressed by these formats. While the table monitors seemed to have a more honest intent than most, this resembles the "Delphi Technique". That is, a method often used to get people to agree with something they do not really agree with by splitting them into small groups under a manipulator, and getting them to think that most people feel the way the manipulators want them to.
Even if there is no such malignant intent, it can have a stampede effect like that on its own. An open mike session is much more useful but that depends on being strict about cutting off people who are rambling, incoherent, or off topic. To just let everybody say anything they want as long as they want insults everybody and wastes everyone's time.
If and when you get down to really restructuring TCHC, a much better method would be focus groups. Choose residents more or less at random, but with some intelligence, no ideological affiliations, and commitment. Let them listen to some experts on housing, and then let them sequester and make determinations of fact.
The citizen's assembly on voting reform in Ontario is a good model of this, even though it was preempted. A jury when juries were allowed to work properly, would be something similar. There are various models of participatory democracy around, although what you need is a discursive or deliberative process.
I do not claim to be an expert on any of this. If you are serious about TCHC changing in accord with the needs of the tenants you want to call in some experts. My basic theme, as it has been for many years, is that experience everywhere shows that the only way to manage social housing is to let the tenants run it themselves. So this entails that the best way to reorganize social housing would be to listen to the tenants, to let them steer the process.
I may sound totally cynical about the session last week, but I am surprised that you did have some other tenants with a bit of a clue. One person stood up at the mike and told you to look into the Tenant Management Organizations and other initiatives to run social housing in the United Kingdom. I think a few people talked about tenant associations as well. It is like some of my preaching about that is getting through.
I was relieved that we had no toady types standing up to tell us how wonderful TCHC is, and what pigs we tenants are. As in, we should be grateful for what we are getting, because we do not really deserve it and there are tens of thousands of people who would like to be in our units. There are not enough to go around. We are the lucky ones. And so on.
There were fewer people than in previous forums for TCHC tenants, just talking about strictly building issues. But generally the issues are the same as they were at the LeSage commission and all these other events over the years; security, lack of maintenance, contempt of housing staff for the residents. Nothing changes and for a reason.
That is my impression of your forum.
I should discuss myself a little. This may make you afraid to communicate with me further. At the moment I am dealing with another of these attempts by some housing apparatchiks to evict me, because I am "causing trouble". I have been a tenant of TCHC and its legacy organizations for twenty years now and I have had a great deal of negative experience.
I have written about these experiences in much more detail elsewhere. I can send you a copy if you are really interested. The biggest gripe is that I was in a building for nine years which was extremely mismanaged.
It was run for much of that time by a superintendent who was himself a crack addict. Rather than finally get through to somebody to correct the situation, I found myself black-bagged and harassed. Eventually there was a collusion to get me arrested on trumped up charges. This partly backfired on them and they had to move me to a much better building.
I am "causing trouble" here too. I have had conflicts with the thug who the tenant "services" staff have groomed to be the "tenant rep" for this building. I demanded an accounting for money being raised and spent, and promptly got the two-legged pitbull sicced on me. Since I was not intimidated by this individual I was therefore "threatening" him. It is becoming quite a soap opera down at the Landlord and Tenant board.
I am getting better at conducting my legal affairs by myself. I have to. There is no way to trust the legal aid system in Ontario. Since I am someone who thinks too much and knows too much, and am inclined to say too much in public and on the net, and given the nature of Toronto politics, I get harassed a lot.
Some people at city hall do not like me. They have got me fired form a couple of jobs. My councillor, Pam MacConnell, has refused to talk to me for over fifteen years.
I am having a great deal of trouble getting a meeting with Mayor Tory. You might want to find a way to get word to him that it is in the city's interest to listen to me about my accumulated grievances. One of these days this could lead to a serious legal liability with the city. I do not know why the city does not want to solve it before it gets to that.
You noticed at the forum that nobody could say what TCHC did well. It does nothing well that is to do with its legitimate mandate because that doesn't matter. This is because it does one thing well; suppress its tenants.
It used to do one other thing well. This was, to present a rose colored view of itself to the public and especially to city council. It does not seem to be able to do that anymore. I think part of the reason for that is the decline in the relative power of the authoritarian left at city hall.
The Toronto Star has been some help in exposing the abuse of power and contempt for tenants. They also exposed the shoddy repairs and the deteriorating conditions in many units. However, I think the TCHC "cult" does not mind the disrepair issue; they are in fact exaggerating the repair backlog as a lever to get more funding. I believe Gene Jones exposed this overstating of the repair problem.
The big reasons for the repair backlog is the incompetence of the TCHC management and the decision, twenty years back, of the Rae government to seize the building funds and use them to build more housing. Since then most of these buildings have been on a "fix it after it breaks down" policy.
The way you manage rental housing over the long term is you maintain a sinking fund; some capital laid aside to carry out repairs on a regular schedule. As a rough example, new carpets every five years, new appliances every fifteen, new elevator every thirty years, and so on. It is vastly more expensive on the long run to wait until things fall apart and then go looking for money to fix them.
Also, TCHC is very poor at maintaining accounts. This is not so much out of crookedness as an attitude that they do not want to be accountable for what they spend. Government should just give them whatever money they ask for. This is similar to the attitude one finds in certain social agencies and government agencies. It is often encouraged by "left" or "progressive" politicians.
At this point, I may sound like a raving right winger, even libertarian. In fact, I consider myself a kind of Marxist. However, I have come to the conclusion, based on long experience, that the authoritarian left is just as much a hazard to underclass and working class people as are the conservatives.
I once had a tenant services worker in TCHC tell me that there seems to be a "housing cult" within TCHC, and leading back into this "ONPHA" (Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association) organization. A feature of this cult is the idea that an education in social work is somehow a qualification to manage social housing units. Most long term unemployed and working poor develop a great distrust of social workers, often referring to them as "The Social Engineers".
I know some social workers who are good people and a help to their clients. Some of them reject parts of the training they received in social work schools, to be what they called "social police". The core of the social engineer/social police philosophy seems to be that poor people are in some way deficient, to be worked on according to a program designed by social workers. They are very hostile to the idea of underclass people defining their own problems and solutions.
So you can see why the idea of Tenant Self Management is unacceptable to these people. The whole tenant Representation system was designed to pre-empt the establishment of tenant associations or some such form of tenant self representation in TCHC and its legacy organizations. They were required by law to allow tenants to organize.
The old "City Homes" group, the best run of the pre-amalgamation legacy organizations of TCHC, allowed its residents to set up tenant associations. The management of "City Homes" was swept aside in the amalgamation and these tenant associations were all broken up, often in very dirty ways.
My TCHC social work friend who talked about this housing cult said that he was told that if any tenants started trying to start a tenant's association, he was to stop it. His job depended on it.
Gene Jones disliked the tenant representation system and refused to call new elections for "tenant reps". Instead he tried to encourage tenant associations or building committees. The housing cult, with their friends in the "shelter/support" bureaucracy at city hall, and "The Left" at city council, have got rid of him.
So you can see what the big difficulty will be in trying to meaningfully reform TCHC. You will be going against The Cult, the power complex which wants centralized control of housing, no fiscal accountability, and tenants under tight control. Yet devolving TCHC into manageable units with accounting integrity and the greatest possible degree of tenant self management, is what is needed.
The reason they ended up with the Tenant Management Organizations in the U.K. was mere serendipity. Mad Maggie Thatcher wanted to sell off all the social housing, but found there were no buyers for most of it. So the next best thing, and to spite the usually "left" dominated local councils, was to get the residents to manage them.
This was against the usual hard conservative doctrine that lower class people should never be allowed to gain any experience at running things for themselves. As I have said above, the hard Left has a similar doctrine, which is as strongly held in the U.K. as here. Refuting all this, the TMOs worked out very well. Maintenance costs, antisocial behavior, and all other problems of public housing were greatly reduced.
A scan of the literature on European countries seems to say that all countries go through the same learning process after urbanization. They eventually discover that coercive public housing management does not work very well. They also find there are better ways to provide low cost housing for all than through funding large housing projects to be run by large bureaucracies. These ways are beyond the scope of this report.
The sum of my learnings on this is that getting the right kinds of housing policies requires the kind of political will which can overcome intense resistance. In the actual management of housing, the big resistance will come from local governmental and quasi governmental bureaucracies and their electoral allies. What is needed is someone in the mayor's chair who can provide the will and the skill to put through a Tenant Self Management system.
The people in the city's Shelter, Support, and Housing administration are strongly committed to TCHC as is, and to its solutions. They are like an extension of the housing cult. They will have to be moved aside.
Residents will have to be provided the support and Protection to set up self management organizations or housing cooperatives. Protection is with a capital P because the housing cult really knows how to go after tenants who threaten their power. The only example I know of social housing tenants in Toronto creating their own cooperative is the Atkinson coop. What is not often admitted now is that this required fifteen years of intense fighting. The harassment probably drove the coop's namesake to an early grave.
The other side of the coin is that no one can do much for tenants who simply do not want to help themselves. Gene Jones was savagely attacked for his policy of steering resources to those buildings where the tenants take their own initiatives. However, that is the right technique.
As your retired city auditor has reported, TCHC needs to be under better control. There needs to be an independent audit office, and a tenant's rights ombudsman. This "housing equity" group which came out of LeSage just does not cut it.
People at this forum talked of the need to break TCHC up, that it is too big. Once upon a time, there seemed to be a move toward different housing organizations running different types of buildings for different types of tenants. For example, the old MTHCL was for retired and disabled people.
For some reason this idea was anathema to the housing cult. However, that is exactly what we need to have again. Especially, we need to put vulnerable people, the elderly and disabled, where they can be well protected. Finally, it needs to be made very clear to the housing cult and its supporters that TCHC cannot accommodate people with intractable antisocial behavioral problems.
Residents of social housing do not need to hear; "well these people have to live somewhere"; especially from people who get to go home at night to a house in the suburbs. I say to them, let them move in with you if you are really so concerned about them.
If the city is concerned about efficient management of social housing, it needs to support the tenants. We live in these places. We are the eyes of the public over how well they are being managed, but we have to be able to speak with safety and to be heard.
If cooperation could be established between city government and the denizens of TCHC, it will take some time but eventually a much better model will evolve, for managing all this housing which TCHC now holds. The money TCHC receives now should be enough to get and keep the buildings in a state of repair. A successful model would reduce political opposition to funding and building new social housing units.
The basic problem with the tenant representation system is that the tenant representatives, including the ones on the TCHC board, are in a conflict of interest. They cannot really represent the interests of those who elected them. This is why there contested elections in only 96 buildings. In 141, the position remained vacant. In the other 219, there was an acclamation, usually of the management's handpicked candidate.
If the relation between the social housing resident and the taxpayers through their government, was as one of a member of a cooperative organization with a contract with the city government, to manage the housing allotted to them in exchange for the advantages of public housing residency, then you would have a system which can realize the advantages described above.