Between fiduciary failings, bad press, and the dissolution of its Board, the public housing company has a decidedly cloudy future.
Let’s say Mayor Ford clears all the provincial legislative hurdles. Let’s say the city actually privatizes much of the public housing stock. Let’s say the whole enterprise goes belly up.
According to current mayoral wisdom, the sell-off of TCHC assets would mean the city relies more heavily on rent supplements to provide affordable housing for 164,000 tenants. Plus, incoming monies from the sale of buildings could start to provide supplements to 143,000 tenants on the subsidized housing waiting list. Sounds great! Except the success of rent supplements relies on a high vacancy rate; when vacancies drop, rents rise, and the city ends up paying more to keep up its end of the bargain. Guess what? Toronto vacancies have been dropping for a decade. According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, there has been a 30% decrease in rental units across the GTA since 2000. Worse than that, there is no incentive for private developers to build more affordable housing because the condo market is just too lucrative.
If the city sells off its assets, are we ahead of the game or not? Up till now, there has been no serious dialogue on social housing policy. To be fair, council has been preoccupied with the fallout of the city auditor’s report and the ensuing fight over the liability of the Board itself. But now that this has played out, will Mayor Ford or TCHC managing director Case Ootes spend time talking to housing experts? Will they look at social housing models in other cities? Even a quick glance shows that a combination of strategies – rent supplements and dedicated affordable housing – yields the most promising results. It’s not an exact science by any means, but it is an area that requires study, thought, and discussion.