Monday, January 23, 2012

Levy: Former mayors oppose home sales

With the dust not yet settled from last week’s budget brou-ha-ha, City Hall’s next battle will heat up Tuesday over a plan to sell off 675 Toronto housing authority homes, most of which are sitting in disrepair and require significant outlays of cash to fix them.

On one side are a posse of former Toronto mayors, the leftist councillors plus many of their useful idiots in the mushy middle and the usual poverty/tenant activists.

On the other is the new business-minded, far more transparent and realistic senior management of TCHC and a business-like board that recognizes money is not set to drop from the sky to repair the housing authority’s decrepit portfolio of 58,500 units.

The plan to use the sale of the homes to raise a much-needed $222-million towards the TCHC’s current $650-million backlog of repairs was approved by the TCHC board at their Oct. 22 meeting of last year.

The plan must first be approved by council and then by Ontario Housing Minister Kathleen Wynne. The sale of another 22 TCHC homes has been awaiting approval from the housing ministry since last May.

The current plan before executive committee proposes the sale of 633 single family houses across the city — 56 of which are vacant — and another 31 property houses which were purchased by the former city of Toronto for non-housing uses (for parks, to extend roads, etc.) A further 11 Single Housing Opportunity Program (SHOP) homes are also up for sale.

The report to executive committee, not surprisingly, says all of these single family homes are “more costly to maintain” than the rest of the TCHC’s portfolio of 58,500 units.

Acting CEO Len Koroneos told me last week that the $222-million they expect to get from the sale — proceeds that are net of real estate and outstanding mortgage costs — are based on 2008 MVA figures and are probably conservative.

He said many of the homes are more than 40 years old — some are as much as 80 years old — and have a long list of repair needs ranging from decrepit kitchen cabinets and furnaces to ceilings and roofs that have been eaten through by raccoons.

He noted that the sales, once approved by council and the province, will be phased in over three to five years to allow them to find “suitable alternate accommodation” for the impacted tenants.

“Before we displace people, we will give them adequate notice and pay their moving costs,” he said.

Yet as much sense as this sale makes to me, four former old city of Toronto mayors — David Crombie, John Sewell, Art Eggleton and Barbara Hall — have written to Mayor Rob Ford and to council to oppose the sale.

The letter from Crombie, Sewell and Eggleton — e-mailed to council by Marlene Riley of the Toronto Lands Corp. — claims that the sale will force the tenants impacted into segregated communities.

Sewell acknowledged in an interview that “money has to be found” to repair the rest of the TCHC portfolio and thought city officials should “re-engage” in negotiations with the feds and the province to get funding.

Barbara Hall, who wrote to council in her role as grand poobah of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, also expressed concerns that housing would be removed at a time when there is a long waiting list.

She noted that those “vulnerable people” impacted by these sales decisions often come under the OHR Code and need to be considered.

(It is so easy for all of these mayors to comment considering their jurisdiction over social housing was relatively minimal. In their day, Metro and the province handled most of it.)

Nevertheles, Koroneos said the feds and province haven’t even talked about uploading the units, let alone providing funding for repairs — and the sell-off of their homes is the “only option.

“We are trying to do the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in our units at no cost to taxpayers,” he said.

Mark Towhey, one of the mayor’s senior staffers, said for the first time ever, the TCHC has come forward with a credible financial plan to “address the quality of life in (all) units.”

Asked if he expected a fight at council over the sale, Ford called it a case of simple “common sense.”

“I don’t consider it a fight,” Ford said. “It is going to help people in housing, it has to go to capital repairs.”

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