Last spring, City of Toronto councillor Ana Bailão formed a special working group on Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s proposed sell-off of 619 single family homes. The report, Putting People First, was released in September and it contains some very good ideas. First off is the recommendation that TCHC sell only 55 of the 619 homes originally suggested (this is in addition to the sale of 56 homes that council has already approved). There’s a simple reason for this: a full sale of the proposed properties would bring in $220 million over five years; however, TCHC faces a $1 million operating shortfall every year. What happens once the money from the sell-off is gone? Bailão’s report rightly argues against this short-term thinking.
The report offers some interesting long-range ideas. One is to convert up to 100 single-family into affordable home ownership. Over 50% of TCHC tenants have said they want to own the home they live in and this may be a good opportunity.
The report also suggests that TCHC renegotiate its mortgages, which currently include interest rates up to 13%. In contrast, Infrastructure Ontario offers long-term loans for social housing providers at a rate of 3.84%. Over the long haul, that amounts to quite a savings.
Not all the suggestions in Putting People First will be workable, but the point is that the report offers plenty to think about. Which is more than we were offered before.
Toronto Community Housing’s planned selloff of 65 single-family homes has had many stops and starts. Last June and again in March, city council approved the sale of these homes. The idea is to take the estimated $24 million in sales and use it to pay down the hefty $750 million repair backlog on many other public housing units.
This June, however, Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, wanted to delay the sale until October, when a special working group presents its plan to deal with TCHC’s 619 other single family homes. After Mayor Rob Ford complained to Premier Dalton McGuinty, Wynne reversed her desire to delay and now the sale is on again.
These homes are in desirable neighbourhoods like High Park and the Beach. This means the middle-class will come buying. It also means the low-income families will be forced out. This is unfortunate. Mixed-income communities are essential to building a healthy Toronto. Indeed, a city-commissioned study reports that low-income segregation can have a negative impact on individuals’ health and education. Much current thought on public housing acknowledges this; TCHC’s big rebuilding projects such as Regent Park and Lawrence-Allen have incorporated the basic concept of mixed-income neighbourhoods.
When Wynne was asked about her flip-flop, she told reporters she did not intend to undermine the wishes of city council, only to deal with the potential sale once the working group’s report is ready. She said she preferred to have “one conversation” on the matter. Let’s hope this conversation includes the fact that low-income families have a right to live anywhere in the city, not just in high-rise communities in the inner suburbs or large, isolated social housing complexes.