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Toronto's Mayor Rob Ford inspects a resident's apartment during a tour of a Toronto community housing building in the city's east end on Feb. 16, 2012 . (Chris Young for The Globe and Mail/Chris Young for The Globe and Mail)
Toronto's Mayor Rob Ford inspects a resident's apartment during a tour of a Toronto community housing building in the city's east end on Feb. 16, 2012 . (Chris Young for The Globe and Mail/Chris Young for The Globe and Mail)

'Hey, I'm Rob Ford. … Does your fridge work?' Add to ...

The lines he delivers to each tenant are pretty much the same as Toronto’s mayor hustles his way down the mint-green hallway of a social housing high rise in the city’s east end.

“Hey, I’m Rob Ford,” he announces into the crack of a half-opened door. “Is everything okay? Does your fridge work? Does your stove work? Any holes in your wall? Cockroaches? Bedbugs?”

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The midday building blitz is part of a handful of visits Mr. Ford has made since the new year, a whistle-stop tour of Toronto Community Housing Corp. properties to see firsthand what a $650-million repair backlog looks like.

The visits are a strange hybrid of home inspection and campaign stop, with Mr. Ford handing out cards and fridge magnets at every door, checking out mould in bathrooms, leaky taps and faulty kitchen cupboards. A phalanx of staff from municipal licensing, TCHC, public health and the mayor’s office follow along, taking notes on clipboards as the mayor crosses threshold after threshold.

“Don’t be shy. I’m here to help,” Mr. Ford tells Indrajit Roy as he moves in to get a look at the peeling paint on his bathroom ceiling. “Wow. That’s not good,” is the mayor’s assessment, before he promises to get the problem solved.

“Give me a couple of weeks,” he says before leaving.

“It was a pleasant surprise to see him,” says Mr. Roy after the mayor leaves. “I am following the controversy over subways. Everyone is fighting with him, right?”

Solving the system’s huge backlog will take much more than a new coat of paint and the major repair costs at this building and others involve big-ticket items, such as aging heating and electrical systems, balconies and windows. On Friday morning, the mayor’s executive will sit down to consider a controversial proposal to fill part of the funding gap by selling 675 TCHC single family homes.

Councillor Ana Bailao, chair of the city’s affordable housing committee, has been working on a compromise solution all week with the mayor to ward off the move. Friday her efforts are expected to lead to the creation of a five-member “special working group” led by Ms. Bailao to include members of the public with financial and housing expertise.

As part of the compromise deal, the sale process will begin on 56 vacant homes and in return the mayor has agreed to hold off on the sale of the remaining homes until the group reports back in October.

“Our main goal is that we want to maintain the affordable housing stock in good condition,” says Ms. Bailao, a moderate on council. “The main thing that we need to solve here is the repair backlog.”

Ms. Bailao concedes that won’t be easy, but is determined to try. The mayor and TCHC chief executive Len Koroneos have made it clear they think selling the single units is the only option.

“They are saying prove us wrong,” Ms. Bailao says. “It might be that they are right and we will look at all possible ways and there is nothing else to do, but first we need to do this work.”

Back at the TCHC apartment, the mayor mops the sweat from his forehead and winds up his tour on the 11th floor after making his way down 14 storeys.

Asked about Friday’s meeting, he says he hopes to get approval for the sale of the vacant units as well as for the task force. Asked if he thinks a sale of all the homes will be necessary, his response is simple. “Absolutely,” he says. “We need money. We have to fix our existing stock,” he says, waiting for the elevator.

His message to the more than 100 people planning to speak at the meeting: “They have to understand that we need the money to fix these buildings. That’s the only way we can get it right now – unless someone comes up with another alternative, or money starts falling from the sky, and that’s not going to happen.”

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