Selling Off Stock

May 29, 2011

(In case you missed it at the Torontoist on Wednesday, we’re reposting the post. With new, pretty pictures.)

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Just before the May 24th fireworks reignited the ongoing Pride/anti-QuAIA debate at yesterday’s Executive Committee meeting, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s (still) one-man board was given the go ahead to sell off 22 properties. While possessing moments of drama and emotion, the TCHC debate ultimately lacked the highly charged personal edge that gripped the Pride v. anti-QuAIA deputations. Perhaps that’s what happens when only one side holds all the cards.

What Tuesday’s TCHC process was also lacking in was concrete answers. And not just answers to pointed questions from visiting councillors looking to score political points. Honest to goodness answers to honest to goodness questions asked by the mayor’s allies on the Executive Committee.

Like much of the rush to foist the Ford Nation mandate onto Toronto, there’s a sense that the mayor and his team don’t have to explain themselves. They won the election, so they’re free to do as they want. All this back-and-forth is simply wasting time. Pitter patter, let’s get at her!

It was in evidence at last week’s council meeting and the debate over proposed garbage outsourcing in district 2. The staff and privatization advocates were all a little hazy when it came to the numbers and figures. Would it save $8 million? If not, how much? Any? What about diversion rates? Different? On par? Improved?

Stop with all the questions, already! We campaigned on privatizing garbage. We won. We’re going to privatize garbage.

Likewise, TCHC Managing Director Case Ootes and CEO Len Koroneos didn’t seem particularly driven to talk turkey about their recommendation to unload the 22 housing units. How many tenants would be affected by the sell off? Ummm… let me check my notes. 32. Who would be in charge of relocating the tenants losing their homes? Ummm… not sure. “The Planning Department’s not here,” the mayor offered up by way of an answer. What would be the difference in cost to the city between putting in necessary repairs and renovations and continuing to rent out units and simply unloading them as is? Ummmm… we’ll have to get back to you on that, councillor.

“A huge absence of information,” Councillor Janet Davis suggested.

The Committee wasn’t even provided with definitive numbers when it came to such fundamental inquiries about how much the city could really expect to get for selling the houses. Mr. Ootes is thinking close to $16 million. Others like Michael Shapcott at the Wellesley Institute aren’t convinced the number will be that high. Whatever sum it ends up being, the money will be applied to the backlog of repairs on other TCHC properties that is now in the neighbourhood of $650 million.

Another number that came as a surprise to some councillors at the meeting, more than a tripling of repair costs in just two years if true. And if true, it’s hard to imagine how $16 million is going to make a lick of difference in their bigger picture even 1 elevator repair at a time. Especially if we’re ultimately reducing the amount of rental units available to a list that’s already 10 years long to do it.

That seemed to be one thing we could safely conclude would happen if the sale gets approved by city council. Less TCHC housing to go around. “A reduction of capacity,” as Mr. Ootes admitted reluctantly. But, he was quick to add, we weren’t responsible. “We’re not reducing capacity,” Mr. Ootes spun. “Capacity’s being reduced because we don’t have the money.”

It is a new age, a new reality, according to Councillor Mammoliti. “We’re on our own,” he informed the room. We should never expect to see money from senior levels of government ever again. That was that.

So, wave the white flag and agree to be the hatchet men, to do the bidding of the provincial and federal governments’ respective and collective negligence in the social housing portfolio. Instead of standing up and fighting to protect the most vulnerable in our city, members of the mayor’s Executive Committee voted to use them as fodder, sacrifices to the new order. Making tough choices, it seems, means making other people pay for your lack of imagination and willingness to go to bat for your constituents.

“This particular sale of 22 houses is a start,” the unelected, unaccountable Case Ootes told reporters, undoubtedly striking fear into the hearts of every TCHC tenant.

For all the talk of having to go it alone and make choices out of enforced necessity due to fiscal restraints not personal preference (the mark of all small-minded municipal politicians who operate happily under the umbrella of not bearing ultimate responsibility), the irony of the decision to sell the houses is that, even if city council agrees, it is still pending provincial government approval. What the Executive Committee signaled with its vote to sell off TCHC properties was that it was willing to get its hands dirty and be the bad guy. That answer seems firm and unequivocal.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr