By PATRICK HUNTER
Another probe of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) has been ordered. This time the order comes from the Chair of the Board and will look into practices of senior management. The two allegations which prompted this probe, cited by the Toronto Star, are that there was an attempt to disguise the earnings of the executive assistant to the CEO in an effort to keep her earnings being published on the “sunshine” list. The other allegation concerned the “dismissal” or “resignation” of the recently hired Chief Operating Officer (COO). A request to the TCHC to get a copy of the terms of reference for this latest probe was declined noting: “As the investigation is underway, we cannot release details at this time.”
In previous columns, I have discussed some of the unusual happenings at the public housing corporation, particularly since Mayor Ford dismissed the entire board, replacing them with the one-man board, Case Ootes. Eugene Jones, an American with an apparent history of turning social housing around was hired as the Chief Executive Officer. Jones proceeded to replace many of the senior executives and the methods used raised eyebrows right down the line within the Corporation. That has become the subject of an inquiry by City of Toronto Ombudsman, Fiona Crean.
Other areas of concern about TCHC include the massive backlog in repairs of units and the seemingly endless repairs of repairs because they were inadequately repaired in the first place.
A NOW magazine report notes that the repair backlog has risen from $647 million in 2011 to $862 million today. The magazine also indicates that the amount of people on the waiting list has risen from over 142,000 in 2010 to over 167,000 in 2013. What is not clear is how many units are sitting empty due to disrepair that figures in the backlog.
This organization is such an important part of our economic and social life in this city that many of these allegations cannot be overlooked. As I noted almost a year ago, it is not unfair to suggest that a sizeable portion of the residents of TCHC are people of African descent. There are a myriad of reasons for this, not the least of which is that Black people often find themselves on the low end of the salaries spectrum, and social housing offers an opportunity for many not only to have a roof over their heads, but opens a door to future home ownership – an ultimate goal for many.
Mayor Ford has, in the past, made a show of visiting some of the units in some of the TCHC properties but, like everything else that Ford does, it has been more show than substance.
It is not unusual, by any stretch of the imagination, to hear that organizations in the public and broader public sector are often mismanaged. We are more aware of their missteps because they are subject to greater scrutiny. We expect them to behave within ethical rules and follow guidelines as closely as possible. One gets the sense, however, that they can use the shelter of their public sector umbrella to stretch those ethical guidelines to the limit.
It is also one of the reasons why it is so distressing when one hears of the thousands of dollars being paid out to dismissed senior management people.
Sometime last year the story emerged that Jones was planning a $2-million renovation of the corporate offices. That plan was quickly dropped following the resulting uproar.
It is decisions like this that leads one to question one’s confidence among the leadership. In light of the backlog of repairs, why would you propose renovating offices when the health of residents may be threatened because of outstanding repairs?
Given the two-pronged attack – the City Ombudsman and the newly-created probe – on the staffing matters at the TCHC, we may anticipate some significant changes. Whether that would include a replacement of CEO Jones is not certain, but unlikely. I suspect that the payout to relieve Jones would be sizeable, and there probably will not be a quick and ready replacement. And even if there were wrongdoings uncovered confirming the allegations, it probably would not be sufficient rationale to relieve him. Of course there is always the possibility that he will view the findings, if proven, as a lack of confidence in his administration and resign. He would not go empty-handed.
All of this is sheer speculation, of course. There is obvious disappointment among TCHC staff in Jones’ handling of the senior staffing issue and probably other factors as well, hence the referral to the City Ombudsman. But perhaps even more significant is the lack of progress on repairs. The wholesale replacement of the executive does not seem to have put a dent in the issue and that may yet be Jones’ downfall.