Councillor Ana Bailao at the press conference for the Special Housing Working Group on Monday, September 17.
Selling off Toronto Community Housing's single-family homes is the wrong way to address the agency's massive repair backlog, according to a new report that's being praised by tenant advocates.
At a City Hall press conference Monday morning, Councillor Ana Bailão, chair of Special Housing Working Group, released a highly anticipated report on the 619 "scattered houses" that Mayor Rob Ford had advocated offloading in order to raise funds for the estimated $751 million in repairs at TCH's other properties, many of which are crumbling highrises.
The report recommends that only 55 of the scattered houses be sold, on the condition that the affected families be given the option of moving into a similar property in their neighbourhood or be given assistance to buy their homes at affordable prices.
The homes being recommended for sale are either vacant, in a state of bad repair, or worth over $600,000. Bailão said that there are 38 families living in the properties, which are spread across the city in seven different wards. Housing experts say the scattered properties are important for creating mixed-income neighbourhoods and removing the stigma associated with many social housing.
Along with the sale of the 55 houses, the task force identified other strategies that it says could raise $120 million for repairs in the next two years. They include finding internal efficiencies within TCH operations and selling up to 100 of the scattered properties to current tenants, who would receive help with down payments from non-profit groups and existing provincial and federal government home ownership programs.
A second phase of the plan would raise roughly $380 million over five years. The task force found that significant savings could be generated by renegotiating the mortgages TCH holds with Canada's federal housing agency, some of which are at rates as high as 13 per cent. Bailao wants the mortgages refinanced with no cost to the city, which would require concessions from the federal government.
Bailão is also calling for a "Campaign for Social Housing" aimed at convincing the federal and provincial governments to come to the table with more money for affordable housing in Toronto.
"Throughout this process the working group's operating principle was to put the best interests of TCH residents first and foremost, whether they live in single-family homes or highrises," Bailão said Monday.
TCH CEO Eugene Jones said his staff needs time to review the report, but that he's encouraged by what he's seen so far.
"There are a lot of great ideas in the report, we'll look at all of them," Jones told reporters. "I'm prepared to pursue as many new approaches and opportunities as we can, if that's what it takes to generate the money we need to fix our housing, and close the gap on our $750 million capital backlog."
"It's a very important report. It completely changes the conversation," says Michael Shapcott, director of housing for the Wellesley Institute. "A year ago the mayor and the people around the mayor were beating the drums, they were crying that the sky was falling and that there was no solution but the massive sell off of affordable housing.
"One hopes that Cllr Bailao has now shut the door on that very dangerous policy option, and that means we can now start to have the broader discussion."
Susan Gapka of Tenants for Social Housing commends Bailao's working group for holding consultations with the public as well as non-profit groups, and surveying the residents of the scattered houses before issuing its findings.
"We don't want to see tenants displaced from housing, we want to be at the forefront of the decision making," Gapka says. "This is an incredibly good first step in accomplishing that."
While housing advocates praise the report, and it is expected to win the support of councillors across the political spectrum, whether Mayor Ford will back it remains anyone's guess. Ford initially proposed selling all 619 homes but after pushback from tenants and councillors appointed Bailao to head the Special Housing Task Force in March.
The mayor is now faced with the awkward choice of either reversing his previous stance or rejecting the conclusion of a task force he convened.
On Monday, Bailao said she has yet to hear anything from the mayor, who frequently tours TCH properties to check on maintenance problems.
"I haven't had an opportunity to speak to the mayor on this. He hasn't given me the feedback on what he thinks about the report," she said.
Ford's executive committee will consider the report at its October 9 meeting.