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on the TCHC reorganization

May 4, 2016

I guess I better blorg a bit about the reorganization of Toronto Community Housing. Otherwise I will never get around to it. I am going to be doing a lot of writing about Guaranteed Livable Income for the next while.

There is a certain connection between the two topics. A GLI will not really work unless there is a serious housing program going on. A big problem with governments in the past twenty years in Canada is the idea, coming from neo-liberal delusions, that the housing supply will somehow take care of itself. It never has and never will.

Magic does not happen and a supply of housing that matches the needs of the population does not appear by itself. This is especially so in rapidly growing places like Toronto, and one absorbing a great number of new immigrants. Yet the history of housing in Canada is that governments are finally forced to act, but usually do so in stupid ways due to lack of expertise and to political interference.

solutions and obstacles to new housing

Over and over, when a housing program starts to work it starts to bring down housing costs for everyone, which cuts into the profits of the property development industry, so it is shut down. The really big reform, that which would restructure property taxes to discourage speculation, is never even discussed, never gets on the agenda of even 'progressives'. Yet most of the cost of new housing is in the land and the cost of land is the cost of speculation.

Along with this is the refusal of government to stand up for public interest and have the bank of Canada make the zero interest loans to local government which would allow building enough affordable housing. One idea which does not require a lot of government expense has lately been looked at, though it could have been long ago. That is, what is called 'inclusionary zoning'.

This is requiring all new multi unit developments to have multiple social classes in them. This prevents the development of ghettos and slums. Each building has some high rent, medium rent, and low rent units. It is often complained about, where this is tried in the U.S.A., that such buildings have 'poor doors' , that the different classes of tenant are internally separated in the building.

Poor doors are better than having 'poor gates' out on the street; marking 'no go zones' for the lesser beings. Of course the low rental units will be of lower quality as well. Yet the low rents may not be low enough for the lowest income people; those on welfare and disability programs.

But there is only one real solution for keeping low rent low enough for the most lowly; make sure there is an abundant supply of it and that it stays well maintained. The latter problem is solved by tough enforcement of standards, which requires a stronger government and stronger democracy with the resources and authority behind it to maintain enforcement.

The former problem might be best solved by a system of inclusionary zoning, but it would take a lifetime to become really effective. It would wait for old buildings to be torn down and new ones put up which are inclusively designed. In that time society could change a lot. We should hope there are a lot more middle income renters and a lot fewer high and low income renters, fifty years on.

It is interesting how this would work in Toronto, where the development business just wants to put up condos. Do we get low income condos? Or condos with some low rent units? Why is it, anyway, that private developers are building all new multi unit housing?

Under capitalism, money does only what makes it the biggest return and the rest is left for government to take care of, usually with inadequate resources. Then capitalism shrieks about 'socialism'. But socialism needs to come back into style. This brings me back to where I started, the need for a government housing program.

I now take off into how to set up a proper government program for housing medium and low renters. We had a cooperative housing program for awhile, but that failed when government pulled the money. There were problems with it, much of it to do with political interference. Yet that is probably the best way to create housing for most people.

But I am not going to go into the topic of cooperatives here. It will not get enough new housing built to deal with the housing crisis. That will require what is called in this country 'social housing'. Government builds and runs large housing projects for low income people. To increase the financial and social viability of the projects there are efforts made to get middle income or "market rent" people to move in, but it usually does not work.

fixing social housing in Toronto

The Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) has been the main social housing arm of the city government since the amalgamation of the city. It has been doing an awesomely bad job of running existing housing and getting new housing built. In fact, the available low income housing is declining because much of it is becoming uninhabitable.

The people in control of TCHC have whined that they do not have enough money. They have enough money to keep their housing stock in repair. They would get the authority they need to start building enough new housing if they just asked for it, and could show they can actually put good quality buildings up and run them properly.

But the housing cult does not want to do that. Their organizational model is that the government gives them whatever they ask for, they keep running buildings in their incompetent way, and they go back to putting up bad, instant slum buildings as they were doing at the end of the last social housing boom before the money was cut off.

The point I have been getting to is that the first step in solving the housing crisis in Toronto is to solve the problem of governance within TCHC. As I will elaborate on below, this problem is largely about political interference from the left and the right.

So this is what led a newly elected mayor Tory to do one of the smarter things he has done in office, start a consultation process about transforming TCHC. In doing so, to listen to the people who have the most knowledge of why TCHC does not work; the tenants. I am a tenant of TCHC.

the consultations

So back in May last year I attended the consultations with the mayor's task force on TCHC. My blog post of what I submitted to the inquiry is at http://www.qaz.ca/blog/2015-05-21.html As always, the TCHC cult infiltrated their own operatives into the process, trying to filter the message of the tenants, and intimidate speakers.

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It did not work for them. I have seen that, starting with the LeSage commission a few years ago now, people were willing to complain loud and clear about the housing apparatchiks efforts to bully tenants who speak up. Out of LeSage came the housing equity commissioner, who by the way has been holding her own consults lately and looking to expand her mandate beyond just rent arrears. I have been to these, too.

At the task force meetups, Tory's own staff people intervened to curb the attempts to intimidate and to slant the message in the housing cult's direction. They even succeeded in preventing the leftie councillors, and even some provincial NDPers, from pushing their way into the meeting. The tenants spoke from their often wounded hearts.

From the report which is now being discussed in new meetings with the TCHC tenantry, they were listened to. A year later, some of these same leftie councillors were able to push into the meeting I attended, but most sat at their own table looking very glum. Some TCHC staff were there helping with notes, but were closely supervised by the city housing equity staff.

The political cadres are no longer so much of a threat; they are clearly losing power. One of the big recommendations of the report is that no councillors sit on the board of TCHC. Another is that TCHC become truly independent, to eliminate political interference and to clear legal problems which prevent it from using the equity it has in order to build new housing.

the plan

The plan for TCHC reorganization is to split it into three separate units. One will focus on managing the units. One will focus on providing maintenance and other services. The third will repair existing stock and build new housing, and then hand it off to the other two to manage. This is sensible.

At this meeting last week, I got up to the mike and told the folks that I had been watching TCHC since before it was formed during the Harris government amalgamation days, when housing was 'down jammed' onto the city. I said that what this reorganization of TCHC meant is that the mess created by Derek Ballantyne and company about fifteen years back now, is finally being cleaned up.

That drew some applause. Pamster the Hamster MacConnell sat looking sourly at her cookies and juice. She is still my councillor. She had been an enthusiastic supporter of Ballantyne, the founding CEO of TCHC. She worked closely with the late Jack Layton in this. Sorry to speak ill of the dead, but Jumping Jack was sure as hell no friend of social housing residents.

MacConnell's direct interference in housing management made my old residence at 291 George street a wonderful place to live in for nine years. Her refusal to allow a fence to be put up around the building led to hookers and pimps walking right into the building's rec room and taking it over.

She and the other authoritarian leftists on council refused to let the housing authority of that time employ security guards. Yet they also insisted that social housing in Toronto was going to house everybody, even known drug dealers and violent lunatics. As well, TCHC was expected to cooperate with unions, even if that meant tolerating employees who did not know their jobs, would not do their jobs, or were harassing or extorting from tenants.

That is also a big item in the transformation of TCHC; weed out the no-gooders all through the organization. There is an awful lot of deadwood around who were hired for political connections or on the leftie councillor idea that a degree in social work is somehow a qualification to manage social housing complexes.

political interference

You can see how freedom from this political interference would benefit TCHC and its residents. But it is not just about interference from the left. There is a trend right now to deny that 'left' and 'right' politics is a useful concept. I am not going to get into this topic but there are 'left' and 'right' personalities, as well as political networks which act out these collective personalities.

I have long noticed that within Toronto Housing there have been two factions. One is the left wing 'social engineers' and the other is the right wing 'welfare bureaucrats'. The social engineers have been dominant recently but the welfare bureaucrats have caused a lot of trouble as well.

The welfare bureaucrats see social housing as a welfare program, as a means of sustaining the inferior classes while keeping them closely controlled. Social housing should be as miserable as possible to encourage the clients to move out as soon as possible. Thus the quality of the buildings did not matter much; cheapest materials only, minimal maintenance, tear them down and rebuild them, because these pigs will wreck them within twenty years anyway.

Leftish welfare bureaucrats are aligned with the NDP and social agencies and their quasi government over the poorer areas of the city. They are why the NDP party and social agencies in general are so despised among Toronto's poor. This machine wants access to social housing to be dependent on their patronage; requiring a willingness to submit to being 'improved' by social work types.

Both factions have in common a hostility to tenants talking back and having a real say in managing their buildings. They want large quantities of cheap buildings put up and do not want to be bothered with scrutiny of how well they are maintained and managed.

They are indifferent to the effects on the surrounding neighborhoods of buildings where 'problem' tenants are concentrated and which most of the tenants are desperate to get out of. As well, they dislike market rent tenants, who are freer to talk back and are seen as 'unit blockers'; as taking up units into which a subsidized 'case' could be installed.

to conclude

So, Mayor Tory, go ahead with your housing reform. I will speak for it before council. I will fervently hope it gets past the most aggressive attempts by ideologies of both the right and the left to derail it. Freedom from politics is the key to making social housing livable.

Engage people with professional qualifications to sit on the board, especially people with managerial backgrounds. You have recently hired a new manager from private housing, which is a great innovation for TCHC, where everything 'private' has been despised and refused for years. They even tried to set up their own slipshod maintenance company.

The next step will be to involve the tenants in monitoring the quality of maintenance and management. Not through this phony 'tenant representative' system or having a token tenant on the board, but through consultative committees free from housing apparatchik control.

Lastly, we need tenant associations in these buildings again; not forced on tenants, but allowed and respected wherever tenants have the initiative to form them. This, almost twenty years after an effective system of tenant associations was broken up by the housing apparatchiks, by what amounted to police state tactics.

So, Mayor Tory, I have been watching this chicken shit imitation police state for over twenty years now. I will be glad to see it go the way of the U.S.S.R. and Apartheid. You have been getting it right so far. Do not let the council party lines of left or right stop you from creating a professional management for TCHC.