Sunday, July 10, 2016
Tackling Toronto Community Housing Thugs Still Stalled
TORONTO - He talked tough about getting rid of drug-dealing thugs who have taken control of some Toronto Community Housing Corp. (TCHC) properties when his task force released their report last July 15.
Mayor John Tory said at the time that he’d like to see some of the legislative changes “in process” by the end of 2015 — ones that would make it easier to not only keep convicted drug dealers from coming back to live in public housing but also from trespassing on TCHC property.
“This is urgent. This affects the safety and security of the thousands of people who live in these communities, so by the end of the year I want to see some progress being made,” he said.
Former Task Force secretary Phil Gillies, now a consultant with Enterprise Public Affairs, says the need to evict drug dealers was “front and centre” in their July 2015 report.
But the Toronto Sun has learned that one year later almost nothing has been done to tackle the very legislative changes to the Housing and Trespass to Property Acts that TCHC officials say are preventing them from evicting drug dealers (and gangbangers) known to police or convicted in court — and ensuring they stay out.
Inquiries to TCHC, city and provincial officials last week revealed the province has not even been approached to enact any changes. Exactly what shape those changes will take appears to be stalled at City Hall.
Mark Cripps, a spokesman for the municipal affairs and housing ministry, confirmed they have not received any “formal request” to change the legislation.
According to TCHC reports, interim CEO Greg Spearn sent a letter to Toronto’s city manager last September outlining the changes needed.
Peter Notaro, an executive director in the city manager’s office, said officials have since discovered that the proposed changes will have an impact on the entire homeless service system and need to be considered “within the broader context” of the city’s final response to the task force (which won’t be releasing its report until the end of 2016).
“City staff also agreed any direction to advocate for change in legislation would need to be approved by council,” he added, noting legislative changes won’t happen in 2016 (never mind the end of 2015).
This shameful exercise in foot-dragging doesn’t surprise me. Nevertheless, tell that to the many TCHC residents I’ve interviewed in the past year who say they’re being held hostage in their buildings by drug dealers and other criminals.
For example, one Lawrence Heights resident I spoke to last week has been living in fear since an 18-year-old who helped stab another man to death two years ago came back to TCHC to live with his mom following a plea bargain.
She said she’s constantly concerned about her 13-year-old daughter’s safety.
“I haven’t slept in two years,” she told me. “We don’t invite visitors over either because we don’t want to compromise their safety.”
Gillies said that while working on the task force, he staked out buildings late at night and saw dealers drive up in their BMWs with wads of cash, making “no secret of what they were doing.”
“They know all the tricks ... they squeeze as much money out of these people (with addiction problems) as they can,” he says. “It’s appalling.”
TCHC officials have tinkered around the edges of the problem by beefing up their complement of community safety officers from 81 to 99, installing high-resolution security cameras, conducting safety audits on buildings, and working to more than double the number of joint TCHC/police patrols this year.
After the establishment of a committee last year to look at at-cause evictions, Graham Leah, TCHC’s vice-president of resident services, created a new procedure at the end of May to “ensure the appropriate action is taken” to address anti-social behaviour and illegal activity in TCHC units.
TCHC spokesman Lisa Murray said the new procedure set out which staff members are to carry out each specific step and the timelines in which they are to be completed in order to pursue evictions.
“The new eviction-for-cause procedures strengthen the overall management of evictions-for-cause matters so that the best cases possible can be taken to the LTB (Landlord and Tenant Board) ... and (we can) successfully secure eviction orders,” she said.
But a TCHC insider wonders why TCHC hasn’t done this before considering the provincial tribunal responsible for mediating landlord and tenant disputes hasn’t changed its requirements.
The insider said it’s not difficult to evict for cause — but landlords need to be careful “to present a good case.”
“They’re (TCHC officials) just not motivated to do it,” added the insider, who believes the culture at TCHC is to deny the seriousness of the “problem of gangs, drugs and prostitution” at their properties.
The insider also said officials are unable to respond in a “flexible and creative” manner to address the criminality as soon as it comes to their attention.
“TCHC really needs to get serious about getting dealers out,” insisted Gillies. “They have any number of excuses for not doing it and I say nonsense.
“Why should law-abiding residents have to put up with it?”
EVICTIONS FOR CAUSE FROM TCHC UNITS
•Legislation that needed to be changed:
The Housing Services Act: The act must be changed to ensure those evicted for criminal activity are not allowed back as a resident in a TCHC building for a certain period of time.
The Trespass to Property Act: The act must be changed to allow landlords to bar drug dealers and gangbangers from any building common areas.
•Types of eviction notices:
N5: Ends tenancy for interfering with others (noise), damage or overcrowding.
N6: Ends tenancy for illegal acts.
N7: Ends tenancy for causing serious problems in rental unit or complex.
•Notices served in 2015:
•Number of cases in 2015 where units returned to TCHC: 80 (Sometimes agreements reached without having to pursue eviction process).
•Number of evictions for cause in 2015: 42 (breakdown between noise issues and illegal acts not provided*).
•Number of incidents reported in 2015:
Crime against persons: 768 (up 10% from 2014).
Crime against property: 2,406 (up 40% from 2014*).
*Figures taken from 2015 annual performance report
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