Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Latest scandal yet another black mark on Rob Ford’s TCHC record

By: Metro Canada Published on Wed Apr 23 2014

After three years, the best Mayor Rob Ford can say about his record on the Toronto Community Housing Corporation is that, hey, it’s not like his predecessors did a great job either.

TCHC has struggled with a ballooning repair backlog and a growing wait list for years, all while the corporation seems to consistently find itself mired in bad press.

So yes, it’s not like Ford took a housing agency that was firing on all cylinders and drove it into the ground. But following yet another report highlighting serious issues at TCHC, there’s a good argument to be made that Ford took an already bad situation and made things worse.

Just look at his record. Soon after he took office, Ford received a political gift in the form of an auditor’s report outlining questionable expenses and procurement practices at TCHC. Even though the auditor general’s office began their investigation before Ford was sworn in, the report gave a lot of credence to the notion that city hall was rife with wasteful spending and Ford was the guy who could root it all out and fix things.

The scandal called for a blunt response. But Ford didn’t just take a sledgehammer to the problem — instead, he pulled out the bulldozer. A special council meeting was called before the city’s audit committee even had a chance to review the report. Councillors were then asked to dissolve the entire TCHC board, but were prohibited from asking questions or even referencing the report. And Ford insisted that the entire board be replaced, including representatives (and alternates) elected by tenants and the councillors who had just recently been appointed.

The entire board was replaced on an interim basis by just one guy: former councillor Case Ootes. The clean sweep made for good headlines, but left a ton of unanswered questions relating to the specifics of the report. It was never made clear how firing a bunch of people would actually make TCHC run more smoothly.

That hardly mattered, though. Because under Ootes, TCHC turned its attention to an innovative new strategy for fixing the city’s public housing crisis: selling public housing.

While there was a good argument for the corporation divesting itself of houses that required major repair jobs, it never made much sense as as a larger strategy. But Ford didn’t seem to have any other ideas for addressing the repair backlog. At one point, the mayor even suggested that revenue from selling TCHC properties could go toward balancing the city’s operating budget.

To her credit, Coun. Ana Bailão later chaired a housing working group that explored less contradictory ideas to raise money for housing. They've made some progress.

But on the ground, things only got more chaotic with new TCHC CEO Gene Jones. Under his leadership, we’ve received reports of seniors being evicted from their homes without clear communication or process. We’ve heard about his wish that his employees could carry guns and his offering tenants repairs if they co-operated with police. We’ve watched as he was ordered by the TCHC board to take on a management coach to ensure he does his job better. And now we’ve got the city’s ombudsman saying there’s been an “abject failure of leadership” at TCHC, with a report that talks about a “climate of fear” and the chaos that has resulted from a corporate culture where the CEO seemingly makes decisions without much regard for policies or procedures.

Meanwhile, through all this, the wait list for social housing in Toronto has increased from 78,187 at the beginning of 2011 to 90,990 at the end of 2013.

Ford’s re-election website continues to claim that he “renowned public faith in TCHC.” I continue to wonder how anyone could possibly keep the faith with a record like this.

This post was originally published at on 2014-04-23T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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