By PATRICK HUNTER
Less than a year ago, Eugene Jones arrived at the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) – with much fanfare – as its new President and Chief Executive Officer. This came after a controversial period that saw charges of careless spending, resignation of executives and the Board. An interim head was appointed to manage business as the restructuring process was completed.
We were used to seeing stories about the state of disrepair of TCHC properties and the sometimes violent conditions that existed in many of these TCHC communities. There were constant pledges of working to improve conditions and, with the rebuilding projects underway including Regent Park, optimism was setting in.
No one expected that all the problems facing the Corporation would go away overnight, but there was hope that things would start to get better. As some would say, much of what is reported in the media represents only the tip of the iceberg.
This past weekend, the Toronto Star published a story about the dismissal of six TCHC members of staff. A main point for the cause of dismissal, according to the Star report, was the fact that they attended a debriefing meeting following shootings in the Neptune neighbourhood. The dismissed persons are apparently under a “gag order” as part of the settlement of their dismissal.
But there are some things that make one ask the question: What is going on at the TCHC?
A casual look at the representation among the Executive Leadership Team reveals that there is one person of African descent (Black); on South Asian and one East Asian. The remaining 10 are mostly White males.
Sources tell me that there have been many dismissals of Black managers, replaced by White managers, some with more senior titles. Many of these positions were not advertised, and people were brought in on an interim basis to be later confirmed as permanent.
It is frightening that in a public corporation, as this is, with what one would assume as having a responsibility of ensuring a diverse representation at all levels, and considering the makeup of the clients they serve, reflecting diversity would be a central active theme. TCHC seems to be reversing the trend.
Looking at the list of titles in the Human Resources Department, there is no one with a title dealing specifically with “Diversity”. There are Human Rights and Equity titles, but in a jargon changing world, “diversity” is often used in titles to reflect a path forward and an objective. Human rights and equity, while still positive, reflect a reactive, as opposed to a proactive, stance.
Again, I am told that there was a diversity manager who was dismissed, and was replaced by a “Learning Manager”, whatever that means.
There are no readily available statistics on the racial or ethnic makeup of the residents of TCHC. The 2011 annual report indicates numbers and percentages of seniors over 59 (over 26,000); households with at least one person with a disability (29 per cent), and households headed by new Canadians (20 per cent). The Board and executive representations are not correspondingly reflected here, at least on the basis of appearance.
It would not be unfair to impute that a significant percentage of TCHC residents are Black, yet there is only one Black person on the executive leadership team, and one on the board of directors.
The City of Toronto was behind the dismissal of the board and CEO back in 2011. City Hall brought in a former deputy mayor and right winger, Case Ootes, to restructure TCHC. According to a Globe and Mail quote in July, 2011, Mr. Ootes rewrote the strategic plan saying: “Fundamentally, TCHC should be a landlord. That’s it. Our staff started becoming involved in social services. You have to keep your focus on the mission, which is to provide housing to as many people as possible at a reasonable cost.” Mr. Ootes failed to take into account the fact that, given the density of many of the TCHC neighbourhoods, it would be, and is, a wise and forward-looking idea to have an active community relations program in place. Indeed, it was quite reminiscent of the Harris so-called “common sense” policies which effectively destroyed many of the safety nets that now plagued our community.
I am told that people who the Star reported were dismissed did very good work in their community. They had the confidence of the residents having established good relations with them. The rationale behind their dismissal, as reported, seems somewhat flimsy since, it would seem to me, that attending the debriefing meeting would have been in line with their jobs. Additionally, the Star has indicated that these employees were not responsible for providing the video related to the shooting incident, as had been claimed as part of the reason for their dismissal.
With all of these questionable actions, one has to ask whether Mr. Jones is in control of the TCHC; whether he is being provided with the right advice or supports in his position as Chief Executive Officer, or whether he is being set up to take the fall for mismanagement. Curiously, last weekend there was a water main break outside a TCHC building, spewing gallons (or litres) of water all over the particular residence. The resident indicated that the break has happened a couple of times before, which would suggest that repairs are not being done properly.
As I said, and it bears repeating: These things seem to be only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.