Toronto Community Housing: Thousands of units could close due to lack of cash for repairs
CBC News
By Michelle Cheung
11 March 2016

This two-bedroom subsidized apartment is not fit for people to live in until structural repairs are made, says TCH. The family that lived there was moved out a year ago. (CBC News)

Behind a stand of trees on Islington Ave., north of the 401, 18 town homes stand empty, boarded up since 2008.

In a city where housing is at a premium, it's rare that someone can afford to leave multiple properties vacant.

The landlord, Toronto Community Housing, says the 1962-era, three-bedroom town homes are beyond repair; they're ridden with mould, and water has penetrated the foundation.

Eighteen Toronto Community Housing town homes were deemed unsafe to live in eight years ago. Families of up to six were living in these three-bedroom homes before they were shuttered. These large units are in the shortest supply, says TCH. (CBC News )

"Over the years, there was no money for repairs and maintenance," says Lisa Murray, spokesperson for TCH. "Water got in through the roof. The roof was patched many times, but there's only so many times you can patch a roof."

The homes are just some of the 400 units TCH says it has closed because it doesn't have the money to do the structural repairs, and there's no money to tear them down.

It says another 7,500 of its subsidized units are not going to be fit for people to live in if TCH doesn't get new funding to fix them.

The second level of the parking garage under a TCH highrise has been condemned. The corporation says there are foundation cracks, water leakage and concrete de-lamination. (CBC News )

"My worst nightmare is to have to tell those families that they have to leave the unit because it's not habitable and I have no place for them to go," says Greg Spearn, President and Interim Chief Executive Officer of TCH.

He took CBC News on a tour of one of the high rises TCH owns in downtown Toronto.

In need of more than a patch
Many of the corporation's 2,100 buildings are 50 years old. They've been patched but now need structural repairs for roofs, leaky water pipes, single-pane windows, and exterior cladding on buildings that don't keep water out, says Spearn.

Rebar in the parking garage is rusted. TCH says the estimated urgent structural repair bill to the lower-level parking garage is $6.5 million. (CBC News )

Rebar in the parking garage is rusted. TCH says the estimated urgent structural repair bill to the lower-level parking garage is $6.5 million. (CBC News )

Rebar in the parking garage is rusted. TCH says the estimated urgent structural repair bill to the lower-level parking garage is $6.5 million. (CBC News )

Show me the federal money
The city's housing advocate, city councillor Ana Bail„o, says she's going to pay close attention to what the federal government has to offer in its budget, which will be announced on March 22.

She and Mayor John Tory took the federal Minister of Infrastructure Amarjeet Sohi on a tour of the revitalized Regent Park in January. The minister and the prime minister have said they are committed to spending $20 billion on infrastructure, including social housing, over the next 10 years.

A social housing unit has water damage because the seals around the single-paned windows are failing. The windows are original to the apartment, which was built 47 years ago, says TCH. (CBC News )

"One of the things we didn't have in the past is the availability to use federal funds for the repairs," says Bail„o. "We are hoping this federal budget is going to give us the flexibility to use that cash to do those repairs that we need."

TCH is the city's biggest subsidized housing provider with about 60,000 unit. But there are other providers, including non-profit groups, and they're in trouble, too.

"We have about this decade to work with them [the other groups] so it never gets to the point of TCH," says Bail„o. "But some of these non-profit housing providers are starting to come to the city because they are also in dire condition."

There's no reason for the federal government to back away from its commitment to social housing, says Toronto Member of Parliament Adam Vaughan.

"There are dollars on the table for green infrastructure and retrofitting and repairing social housing, affordable housing and co-ops," says the former Toronto city councillor.

But Toronto will have to wait for the budget to find out the exact dollar amounts, he says.

Pinhole leaks in the common hot water pipes behind the wall has caused this damage, says TCH. The corporation says the leaks are common to the building next door. (CBC News)

There may be some good news for the social housing sector on Monday, when Ontario's housing minister is expected to release a long-term affordable housing strategy.

The number of people who are on the waiting list for low-income housing in the city continues to grow. At the end of last year, there were more than 95,000 families or individuals on the list, while the number of people who are housed year-to-year has dropped according to Housing Connections, the city-run service that manages the waiting list for Toronto.

The corporation's CEO says the situation is demoralizing for the community — there is a longer-than-ever waiting list, and existing tenants are uncertain whether their unit might be next to be close.

"Some of our residents will not tell us when they have leakage problems because they don't want to be moved out of the unit. They'd rather stay in the community or stay with the assurance that at least they have a roof over their head."

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