By PAT WATSON
Have you ever sat in an exam, written what you thought was a really good response to an essay question, only to find out that you did not read the directions for the question properly? No matter how well you wrote the paper, you then get a failing grade. In some sense, that is what we could make of the recent announcement from the executive at Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) regarding how they plan to improve the portfolio.
The plan of action sounds rosy, but does it truly answer the key problem, which is the model of public housing that now burdens the city? That burden includes a growing $1.7 billion backlog of repairs on a heap of crumbling bricks and mortar that houses more than 50,000 people in 2,200 TCHC buildings.
The promises for improvement follow the interim report put out in July as part of Toronto Mayor John Tory’s Task Force on Toronto Community Housing. Tory has made some comments about what needs to be done to improve safety and security within TCHC sites, among them evicting residents involved in criminal activity. For most TCHC residents, this latter is a pointless argument, as they are being wrongly characterized in this matter. Many who use TCHC property as sites for doing illegal business are not residents.
The report coming from TCHC Chair Bud Purves and interim CEO Greg Spearn places a good deal of emphasis on increasing security as well as providing information to residents about how to anonymously report crimes. Crime, including bodily harm and murder, occur more often per capita in and near TCHC property than in other parts of the city. Safety and security will always be an important concern, but to overlook the environmental design and social components that would allow for a higher rate of occurrence is to write the wrong answer to the question.
However, to show they mean business, the city plans to re-mortgage the properties in order to finance the $400 million they plan to spend over two years, starting almost immediately, to carry out such initiatives as pest control, job creation and increased security features.
But picture TCHC workers putting security cameras on the side of a building only to have them fall off along with bricks a few days later. It could happen. An entire four floors of brick facing fell from a TCHC building in Scarborough back in April, just as the spring thaw was setting in. Imagine if it was only the cold that had been holding those bricks in place.
No. Putting lipstick on a pig is not the best answer that could have come out of this task force. How about…