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Toronto TCHC should transition to non-profit housing corporation: review task force

A proposal to transition Toronto Community Housing Corp. to a non-profit organization is one of five central ideas on which the report’s 29 recommendations are based.

chris young The Globe and Mail

The Toronto Community Housing Corp. should be decentralized, depoliticized and turned into a non-profit to meet residents' needs better, a task force created to review the country's largest public housing agency says in its final report.

As is, the city of Toronto agency is "unsustainable financially, socially and from an operating governance perspective," said the report released on Tuesday. It added that this has led to a $2.6-billion repair backlog and an operating deficit that could reach $200-million in 10 years. The proposal to transition the TCHC to a non-profit housing corporation was one of five central ideas on which the report's 29 recommendations are based. Mayor John Tory, who created the task force last year, promised to take the findings to his executive committee this week.

"The TCHC is in charge of too many buildings, spread over too large an area and houses too many people in need of various kinds of serious support," the mayor said in a news conference at City Hall. Mr. Tory said he will support most of the recommendations.

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The TCHC is the second-largest public housing agency in North America, topped only by that of New York. Its portfolio contains about 58,000 subsidized and market-rent units in 2,200 buildings worth $9-billion. The majority of its tenants live below the poverty line. The corporation has had multiple scandals since it was created in 2002. But common tenant complaints have echoed throughout its history: failure to fix leaky roofs and end bedbug infestations, a long waiting list for subsidized housing, rampant neighbourhood crime and a politicized management that is too removed from the everyday struggles of residents.

The report offered two possible models.

One would create a non-profit agency called New Home that would manage the viable properties. The TCHC would become a development and asset renewal company with a focus on fixing or demolishing the housing stock. Management of some properties, such as seniors-only buildings, could be given over to specialist organizations.

A second option would be to split the TCHC into operations, development and corporate services divisions.

Under either model, the report suggests that while the city would oversee operations as the service manager – just as it does for Toronto's 240 other non-profit housing corporations – the agency would have its own board of directors consisting of citizen members rather than citizens and council members. The report also said NewHome's financing should be removed from the city's balance sheet, meaning the new non-profit would not be limited in its borrowing powers by the city's 15-per-cent debt ceiling and would have more autonomy from politicians.

The new non-profit must be more autonomous than TCHC with a smaller board made up of citizens instead of the current 13-person board that includes city councillors, said the leader of the task force, Senator Art Eggleton, a former Toronto mayor.

As a whole, the recommendations would not require new money from the city, but would need investments from the federal and provincial governments. Mr. Tory said this financing is likely to come.

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"Help is on the way. I am confident of that," he said, adding that Premier Kathleen Wynne is aware of the need to address the TCHC's repair backlog.

The task force also wants the city to increase revenue by bringing in more market-price renters. The TCHC's current portfolio has 90 per cent subsidized renters and 10 per cent market-price, but this could be changed to a 70/30 split by creating more mixed-income housing, the report said. None of the 52,600 subsidized households would be displaced, Mr. Tory said, but the city could reallocate some subsidies to non-profits, co-op housing providers or the private sector.

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