Bricks falling from great heights off the side of an apartment building that is a part of the housing stock in the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) portfolio is yet another example of the desperate need to rethink subsidized housing in this city. Yet another example of the desperate need to begin concrete solutions to the state of disrepair of Toronto Community Housing stock became evident recently when four floors of bricks fell off the outer wall of the top floors at a TCHC building near Eglinton Ave. E. and Markham Rd.
The problems with the TCHC model for rent geared to income housing is failing in so many ways that it bears repeating as we look at the population that lives in these disgracefully maintained residences.
Consider first that the number of households within the TCHC portfolio at almost 60,000 is nearly equivalent to the city of Guelph. Now imagine that all of Guelph looked like the living and social conditions of the current TCHC. It would be a city that has a higher murder and crime rate, poverty rate and rate of ill health than any other region in the province.
Who in reality would be drawn to live in such a city except those who cannot afford to live any place else? This is a population whose monthly income averages $1,350, 25 per cent of whom are at retirement age. Another 25 per cent are children and youth, and therefore have no choice regarding their decrepit environment.
The solution then would be to create housing policy that would allow those who need affordable shelter to locate themselves within environments that would promote better social outcomes for them.
Rather than doing that, TCHC Interim President Greg Spearn wants us to believe that if we could just repair the buildings, then life for residents in TCHC would become sunshine and lollipops.
The fact that people cannot afford what now passes for market rate rent in this city is the real problem. Putting people who are already disadvantaged in terms of the cost of shelter in this city into holding areas where they have minimal access to the kinds of tools that will allow them better access in society is a poor response to this growing need.
Let us also consider that, as the rate of poverty increases in this city, the need for affordable housing will also rise exponentially. Then consider that TCHC is not building new housing anywhere near the rate at which to competently respond. In fact, because more units are falling into disrepair there are now fewer units available even as the applications for such housing continue to grow in number.
When people in need of affordable housing look to the city, their only answer is these increasingly uninhabitable housing units.
Spearn would like us to believe that because this is real estate it is of value to the city. But of what value is it to the aspirational spirit of this city when the reality is that city management of this portfolio makes it in effect a slumlord?
Whatever good intentions were in mind when rent geared to income housing was first instituted in Regent Park more than 60 years ago, that model has run its course. It is clear that placing a large segment of the population who live on poverty incomes into contained areas does them and their surrounding neighbours little, if any, good.
The problem is not lack of housing across the city, but instead lack of vision for how to respond. With the number of condominium buildings going up in and around Toronto, developers and city managers must come to an agreement about setting aside rental units geared to income.
Why would city managers not consider developing a policy of housing integration rather than housing segregation as a solution? We believe the time has long past for such a solution. Moreover, the sooner such a policy is actively in place, the sooner the issues that plague current TCHC housing stock, including the pressing demand for nearly one billion dollars in repairs, can be ameliorated.
Picture TCHC in 20 years if things keep going the way they are now. How many more falling bricks will it take for the folks at city hall to admit it is time to end this social housing experiment?