Ontario kickstarts Toronto Community Housing repairs, while advocates slam new funds – Toronto

With some 1,000 Toronto Community Housing (TCH) units at risk of being shuttered by the end of next year, officials say the province’s new investment in the city’s social housing infrastructure allows them to create an “active plan” to prevent those closures.

But at least one housing activist is criticizing the move, saying it’s not enough to keep TCH units from closing.

Ontario Housing Minister Peter Milczyn announced Thursday that Toronto will receive up to $343 million over five years, which includes the $43 million committed by the province last year for 2016-2017.

The funding means the province’s largest social housing provider will receive about $300 million more over the next four years — with up to $120 million expected in 2017-2018, and up to $180 million between 2018 and 2021.

“What this allows us to do is to plan going forward,” said Bud Purves, chair of the board of directors at TCH, on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.

‘Stop closing units’

In May, Purves warned half of TCH’s buildings will be in “critical” condition in five years, while 30 are already in serious disrepair.

Bud Purves, chair of the board of directors at Toronto Community Housing, says the organization is working on a plan to prevent additional closures of its units. (torontohousing.ca)

“We have got to stop closing units and [the funding] will give us that as a priority,” he said Friday.

While TCH has around $1.5 billion in a repair backlog, according to Purves, a staff report released last year — the first phase of the Tenants First plan — recommends the organization will need $402 million in 2018 to keep up with repairs as well as operating and development costs. In 2019, $515 million will be required.

“We have to make sure that the people in Toronto Community Housing feel safe,” Purves asserted.

“Our budget going forward for 2018, one of our lenses that we’re putting it through is how do we make sure that we don’t have permanent closures and this will allow us to get into that business.”

‘A good down payment’

Although the funds will allow TCH to “forecast forward” and provide some certainty in planning next steps to deal with its crumbling buildings, the city says this is just the start of what is a long-term commitment from other levels of government — both provincial and federal.

Coun. Ana Bailao

Coun. Ana Bailao applauded the province’s announcement, saying the new funds are a ‘good down payment.’ (Paul Smith/CBC)

“[The investment] is a good down payment,” said Coun. Ana Bailao, who also chairs the city’s affordable housing committee.

“It’s the right recognition from the province that they need to be part of the solution, that they’re coming to the table.”

‘Not good enough’

While Bailao remains optimistic that commitments from all three levels of government will enable the city to tackle its funding issues, others are not.

 Alejandra Ruiz Vargas, a TCH resident who is a member of the anti-poverty group ACORN, says it’s not enough to meet the demands of the 10-year, $1.5 billion repair plan and to keep hundreds of damaged TCH buildings from being shuttered.

“It’s something but it’s not good enough,” Ruiz-Vargas stated. 

Toronto Community Housing Unit Damaged Window

TCH officials have declared this Bleecker Street unit uninhabitable. The organization is dealing with a multi-billion dollar repair backlog. (John Rieti/CBC)

TCH says many of its 364 buildings will need more and more repair money in the coming years. 

Mayor John Tory pressed the province to commit some $800 million to help with repairs in May, saying the information paints a “grim” picture of the challenges facing TCH and the thousands of people who live there. 

‘They will fix some problems and improve the quality of life for some tenants, but how long do we have to wait for another $300 million when they repair the backlog?’
– Alejandra Ruiz-Vargas

With the additional funding, TCH will still face a $402-million shortfall, according to Ruiz-Vargas. 

This sounds good in theory, she said, but the new funding doesn’t explicitly guarantee that additional buildings won’t be closed.

“It doesn’t make us feel very safe about our future because if they close more units there’s more homelessness, more problems with police, more problems with health,” she said. 

“If your child asks you for shoes and you say, ‘No, I’m going to buy jewelry’ … this is the analogy I see right now with Toronto Community Housing. We need other funding that closes the gap of the closing of units.” 

The funds, she adds, are merely a stopgap that doesn’t solve the long-term problems ailing TCH.

“We need more affordable housing units to be built,” said Ruiz-Vargas.

“They will fix some problems and improve the quality of life for some tenants, but how long do we have to wait for another $300 million when they repair the backlog?”

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