It's a major turn-around at City Hall that took nine months to engineer.
In January, Rob Ford's executive committee was on the verge of approving the sale of 675 Toronto Community Housing stand-alone houses. At the time, the mayor and his allies said offloading the homes was the only way to make a dent in TCH's $751-million repair backlog.
But on Tuesday, Ford's executive endorsed a report that would see TCH retain 564 of the homes as affordable housing, selling only those that are vacant, in bad repair, or worth more than $600,000.
The report, authored by a task force led by Councillor Ana Bailão, determined that the city could raise $120 million over the next two years by selling 111 of the homes, finding efficiencies in TCH operations, transferring administration of the remaining properties to non-profit groups, and using non-profit and government support programs to help up to 100 tenants buy their dwellings.
In March, council approved the sale of 56 of the 675 properties. The report recommends selling an additional 55.
"I think [out of] this executive meeting, can come a very clear message," Bailão told the committee before the vote, "that this issue is finally at rest... Single-family scattered homes have a place in the affordable housing portfolio."
Ford appointed Bailão to tackle the housing repair crisis in February after an outcry from tenants groups and housing experts, who warned that selling some TCH properties to pay for repairs in others would amount to cannibalizing Toronto's housing stock.
But despite creating the working group, before Tuesday, Bailão said the mayor gave her no indication he would support its recommendations. Ford kept her in suspense until the final vote, and Bailão said she didn't know she had his blessing until after Tuesday meeting began.
In a speech to the committee, Ford praised the report as a solid first step.
"It's a great beginning. Is it perfect? No, but at least we're trying," Ford said. "We're not talking about it, we're doing something folks. There's not one councillor down here that doesn't want to help the people out in Toronto Community Housing."
The report will go to council next month, where it is expected to receive near unanimous support.
But while Bailão appears to have brokered a compromise on an issue that less than a year had polarized council, implementing the entirety of her plan may prove to be difficult.
The initial, $120-million phase is within the city's power to undertake, but a second phase that would net more than $500 million over five years is much more ambitious. It would require, among other strategies, renegotiating the mortgages TCH holds with the federal housing agency, and selling up to 5,000 market units in TCH buildings to investment trusts, which are traded on the stock market.
Bailão is also calling for a "campaign for social housing" aimed at getting the provincial and federal governments to dedicate more resources to the problem.
"We have to keep asking, we can't give up. What we're saying is we're doing everything in our power to deal with this issue," Bailão said. "We need the province and the federal government to come to the table as well."