Toronto Mayor Rob Ford hustles down the sixth-floor corridor of an Etobicoke social housing complex, and rattles through a checklist of troubles with the tenant at her door.
“Hi. I’m Rob Ford,” he begins. “Does your fridge work, stove okay, toilet, shower – mice, cockroaches, bed bugs, screens okay?” A phalanx of city and housing staffers stand at the ready along with photographers and half a dozen reporters Mr. Ford’s office invited to document the house calls.
While Mr. Ford attends to tales of leaky fridges, foul garbage chutes and hearing aids that have fallen down the drain, the city’s massive housing agency continues to be dogged by controversy.
Outside the 18-storey tower, the man hired more than a year ago to turn around the Toronto Community Housing Corp. tells reporters to expect more bad news after revelations on Wednesday that the organization is investigating yet more allegations of wrong-doing.
“There may be more,” TCH head Gene Jones said. “Hopefully not, but I’m pretty sure there will be.”
Mr. Jones refused to discuss details of the investigation, but Mr. Ford said the trouble is a sign of how bad things were at TCH when his administration took over.
“That’s the mess we inherited,” he said after his tour, adding that he has encouraged staff to continue digging. “I said, ‘Don’t stop. Don’t stop. Just keep going and if people’ve got to go to jail, they’ve got to go to jail. I got no problem with that.’”
In May, the agency announced that it would turn over at least two files to police for further investigation as a result of a forensic audit of work performed by outside vendors. The latest case is a “forensic accounting investigation” involving a subsidiary of the agency and a property at 200 Wellesley St. E. – the site of an extensive fire in 2010 – a TCH spokeswoman confirmed.
TCH chair Bud Purves said it is too soon to conclude that the latest investigation will lead to charges. The problems were flagged to management at Christmas, he said, and after a preliminary investigation, forensic accountants were hired in March and external council was retained.
Mr. Jones and Mr. Purves also confirmed that city ombudsman Fiona Crean is investigating the agency.
Asked about reports that the investigation involves complaints about his hiring and promotion practices, Mr. Jones replied: “Staff always complain about everything.”
Mr. Jones said the housing agency is doing a third-party investigation to present when Ms. Crean reports. “We’re going to prove her right or prove her wrong,” he said.
TCH is the largest social housing provider in the country. It is also involved in a public campaign called Close the Gap to encourage provincial and federal governments to invest more in housing.
Mr. Purves said if the agency expects governments to trust it with their money, it cannot turn a blind eye to the investigations. “The facts in the end have got to come out because we have to be on the moral high ground,” he said.
As for Mr. Ford, he left the Etobicoke building after instructing staff to follow up on more than a dozen complaints, but he admits he is stumped over how to replace that lost hearing aid.
“I’ve dealt with everything, but I’ve never dealt with a hearing aid before,” he said. “Leave it to me.“