Monday, December 13, 2010

TCHC's powers limited in dealing with criminal tenants

Toronto’s public housing officials are limited by provincial regulations when it comes to ridding their buildings of criminals, they said Monday.
While housing officials can evict tenants who commit serious crimes in their own buildings, they can’t do anything if those offences are committed away from the property.
At their year-end meeting, Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) directors said tackling gangs, gunmen and abusive troublemakers is police responsibility.
Chairman David Mitchell said the TCHC and its 83 special constables are working with police to prevent problems.
But under the Residential Tenancy Act, “we can move people from the buildings ... we can’t stop the shootings,” he said.
“At no time should this board or agency behave as police officers,” insisted director Carol Osler.
Toronto Community Housing has 164,000 tenants in 350 high-and low-rise dwellings.
Director Catherine Wilkinson said with the special constables spread across the city, “obviously they cannot respond to all the calls.”
Contrary to an earlier media report quoting a city councillor, a THC spokesman said the agency annually signs a legal agreement that gives police the right to enter all its buildings.
A major jump in serious crimes on TCHC property this summer, especially in west-Toronto, included 105 incidents compared to 70 in mid-2009.
The severe summer crime wave mirrors city-wide gang activity, but staff stressed there was an over-all 1% drop this year at TCHC sites, compared to 2009.
City Councillor Frances Nunziata, who officially joins the board in January, asked why security isn’t increased in troubled buildings.
The mid-year crime spike in TCHC buildings “is 50% higher than it was in the third quarter of the year," she said. “There are a lot of gangs.”
The social housing agency works closely with Toronto Police to prevent crime, CEO Keiko Nakamura said, adding special constables are patrolling identified hot-spot sites more often.
About 80% of special constable calls are for parking and neighbour dispute issues, she said.
“We focus much of our activities within Toronto Community Housing," said Sgt. Jeff Pearson, with Toronto Anti-Violence Initiative Strategy (TAVIS).
He said not all residents embraced police, “but what I consistently found throughout the years is acceptance grows” as they get to know the individual officers and the TAVIS initiative.
“We’ve provided thousands of additional patrols in areas experiencing violence,” primarily in TCHC-managed areas, Pearson said. Many residents have been victimized by outsiders, “and that’s where we’re focusing our attention through TAVIS, to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

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