Instead of repair rewards, get rid of TCHC

By Pat Watson Wednesday August 21 2013 in Opinion
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A close look at the Road to Hell will reveal a trail littered with good intentions. Among them will be the ‘reward’ recently bestowed on the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) Swansea Mews site. The reward of some $150,000 in building repairs came after residents gave up information leading to three arrests in connection with the recent death of Christopher Kotsopoulos.


Kotsopoulos’s murder was yet another violent crime on or near TCHC property. One study found that close to 20 per cent of similar fatalities in this city occur annually on or near TCHC property, and that is in a population that represents only seven per cent of the city.


Yet, despite data indicating that TCHC residents are four to five times more likely to become victims of violent crime, there is tremendous resistance to cooperating with the police or other authorities in order to apprehend individuals committing these violent acts.


Fear of retribution is very much the reason, as well as an awareness that the police and justice system offer no meaningful protection for anyone who dares to speak up.


It would be hard to forget the heroic actions of Kenneth Mark who in effect gave his life by speaking up. In 2009, Mark, 30, testified in court regarding an attempt on his life, but the suspect was released and nine days later murdered Mark. So the threat of death for ‘informers’ is very real.


But this decision by TCHC head Gene Jones to reward Swansea Mews, meant perhaps as an example for other TCHC residents, is a very tricky gambit.


Canadians have a peculiar notion about giving exceptional consideration to any one person or group of persons. It is this: ‘If we do it for one them we have to do it for all.’ Usually that is the explanation a Canadian in a position of authority and the power to make exceptions will give when he or she chooses to withhold special requests. So with that kind of mindset, Jones has really gone out on a limb.


But beyond that, the message that carrying out building repairs is in effect some kind of reward is problematic. Repairs and upkeep are the duty of every property owner. There are a number of laws and by-laws in place in this city to ensure that properties are maintained to an agreed standard of good repair. The fact is that although TCHC belongs to the City of Toronto, maintenance falls below city standards with a backlog of repairs of more than three quarters of a billion dollars.


I have argued before that the real problem with TCHC is that it is a good intention that has veered off into the netherworld of unintended consequences. It makes no sense, if the aim of a city is to consciously create a healthy society, to continue to maintain large repositories of concentrated poverty. The city needs to work with property owners and condominium developers to allocate rent geared to income (RGI) residency units integrated throughout the city. That kind of initiative is now taking place with the current rebuilding of the Regent Park area, where the social housing experiment began more than 60 years ago.


If city planners are looking for real steps towards breaking the back of the social problems associated with poverty and crime then this is one critical direction to take.


Along those lines, the redesign of Lawrence Heights – another TCHC hotspot for violence – is aiming for that kind of social and income reconfiguration. But attacking this issue one site at a time will take decades. It would take much less time to identify units throughout the city for RGI applicants.


Political Issue Alert: If any political party really wants to win votes in the next provincial election here then they can promise to change the provincial tax laws to subsidize low-income earners to allow them to receive a top up or rebate to allow them to afford housing at market rental rates.


A note on being out of touch…


So impresario Russell Simmons couldn’t fathom that African American women would be outraged by his hyper-sexualized rendition in a YouTube video of anti-slavery heroine Harriet Tubman, she of the famed Underground Railroad. Does Simmons not know or understand the kind of force the woman called Moses was? He should only hope to commit himself to being the kind of light she was in this world.


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