Toronto Community Housing (né Toronto Community Housing Corp. or TCHC) is the scandal-plagued operator of thousands of units of social housing. It’s been under attack for years not merely for its incompetence, up to and including fatal incompetence, and its arrogance but because TCHC dares to operate single-family homes in good neighbourhoods in which poor people actually live. Former city councillor Case Ootes – also a former one-man board of directors of TCHC – can be blamed for promulgating the idea that nice houses in nice neighbourhoods are properly reserved for nice people, ideally Conservatives, who can actually pay for them.
(Ootes has denied any such belief, but I call him a liar. “If you have $800,000 houses occupied by a single family, that’s not servicing the greatest number of people. You can accommodate a lot more people than that for that kind of money,” he told the National Post [2008.12.03]. “I don’t believe it’s cost-effective to house people in half-million-plus homes,” he told the Star [2007.11.26]. “They’ve picked expensive homes in our portfolio to house people on social assistance,” he also told the Star [2007.11.27]. Ootes was repeatedly quoted in June 2011 that certain poor people slated to be forced out of their single-family homes would be moved to “suitable accommodation.” By implication, houses are never “suitable.”)
TCHC owns some old houses in Cabbagetown, almost a worst-case scenario of gentrification. Here I am using that term in something approaching a literal sense rather than consensus usage of alternative newsweeklies and city blogs. Cabbagetown homeowners consider themselves a kind of gentry, with houses so beautiful there’s an annual tour. Cabbagetown homeowners are wilfully blind to the crazies, the homeless, the Tamils, the white trash, the numberless poor who live around them.
Scott Weir, an architect with an interest in preservation who works at the Spacer-implicated ERA, and the Cabbagetown Heritage Conservation District appeared before a committee two weeks ago to argue that fixing these TCHC Cabbagetown properties should be a priority. (Star and Post coverage.) I agree it should be a priority, but what’s missing here is any discussion of the residents.
The CHCD refused to answer my E-mail, but Weir confirmed at length that he never consulted the residents. He almost but not quite implied that reporters were too incompetent to quote the remarks he made about residents, but I don’t believe any part of that. Weir wondered if I had watched his committee testimony in which he mentioned residents. (I didn’t.) Later he lumped me in with Sue-Ann Levy and wrote:
For the record I did talk to some people in front of their houses about whether their rotting wood chips on the mansard roofs leaked, and what kind of repairs TCH had made on the buildings recently, but the ones I talked to didn’t know. Ultimately I’m a volunteer whose mandate is to work to help preserve the buildings in this neighbourhood, whose very specific conservation issues I understand and am attuned to. There are social issues that need to be part of this discussion.
Here, a kind of residents’ association – a category never friendly to the poor – and an architect swooped in and demanded that money be spent first on fixing buildings in a rich neighbourhood without any consultation with actual residents.
I admit the following is snide, but here is one way to sum up CHCD and Weir’s position: “Such lovely buildings. They should really be fixed up so good people can live there.” People already live there. Assuming they aren’t outright vandals, whether they’re “good” or not is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what Ootes, Weir, TCHC, the CHCD, you, or I think of them. What you can’t do is pretend they don’t exist.