The Toronto Community Housing Corporation is bracing for an aggressive overhaul in anticipation of a damning auditor’s report that will detail questionable procurement practices and thousands of dollars in “inappropriate expenditures.”
The report into TCHC finances is expected to be made public at a press conference Monday; the corporation’s board members said Sunday they hadn’t yet received copies themselves.
Mayor Rob Ford’s office wouldn’t comment on the report over the weekend, saying his office still hasn’t seen the final figures. But the mayor’s brother, councillor Doug Ford, said they’re already preparing for “a complete overhaul in the whole system.”
“If it’s that damning, I’d call the police in and see if there’s any criminal charges,” he said, adding that he hopes to see “a complete review of every service in there, and management, right across the board, and look at their practices.”
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said auditor-general Jeff Griffiths briefed him on the report earlier this month, outlining problems he found with the housing corporation’s procurement practices, as well as a slew of questionable expenditures on “Christmas parties and spas, chocolates and so on.”
“I really don’t know what the problem is,” Mr. Holyday said. “Certainly some people think things are all right that aren’t all right.”
Mayor Ford alluded to the damning audit in a December interview, saying the report would be “pretty earthshaking.”
“I can’t tell you what that is right now, but there’s a lot of waste,” he said at the time. “I’m not happy with what he found but he did his job and I’ll have to deal with it.”
Doug Ford said it’s vindication for the brothers’ “stop the gravy train” message,” which drew derision over a budget that, far from finding swaths of waste in municipal coffers, set the city up for a wider budget hole next year than it had going into 2011.
“Everyone keeps coming up, yourself too, [asking] where’s the gravy? This is just scratching the surface,” he said Sunday. “There’s some damning things in there. It’s just disrespect for the taxpayer you know having big parties on the backs of taxpayers and not proper procurement practices. It’s pretty scathing.”
The new administration has little love for the city’s community housing corporation, a sprawling amalgam of three inter-governmental housing agencies whose properties service hundreds of thousands of Toronto’s most vulnerable residents across the city.
Throughout the mayoral campaign, Rob Ford railed against the state of social housing, arguing instead for a switch to subsidized rent in private apartments. (Public-housing advocates have countered that there’s a housing shortage and a need for supported housing that wouldn’t be accommodated by the private sector)
Doug Ford stopped short of calling for a dismantling of the TCHC, but said he prefers a private model. “It’s proven: It works.”
The TCHC’s board of directors spent the morning of family day last Monday at a hastily called meeting at the social housing corporation’s Yonge Street headquarters. The debriefing, led by TCHC CEO Keiko Nakamura and chair David Mitchell, detailed some of the findings of the report – a slew of questionable expenses, from lavish Christmas parties to pedicures and thousands spent on fancy chocolates, and concerns over procurement practices that rang alarm bells for Mr. Griffiths. Some of the people involved, they said, were no longer with the organization.
“[Ms. Nakamura] said that the report dealt with two types of issues: One was a culture of entitlement and that dealt with … the chocolates, the massages, the mani-pedis, but the other was procurement,” said a source familiar with the report. “Board members were very supportive in saying it was clear to them she was faultless, that she had nothing to do with it, that the culture of entitlement preceded her becoming the CEO.”
Mr. Griffiths and Ms. Nakamura could not be reached for comment; TCHC spokesman Jeff Ferrier said that “out of respect for the Auditor-General, we will refrain from commenting on his findings until he has delivered his final report to the Board of Directors.”
According to one source with knowledge of the organization, the TCHC held a retreat at the city’s botanical gardens, with a catered lunch of sandwiches, muffins and coffee from The Pickle Barrel. “We’re not talking about a steak at Barberians.”
The agency also deployed free food as an enticement to encourage low-income TCHC tenants to participate in public consultations about proposed redevelopment projects. “It’s the only way to get the input of people who don’t normally have a voice,” adds the source.
It’s not the first time affordable housing projects have attracted the attention of both the Auditor-General and politicians who see themselves as critics of such ventures. About five years ago, a pair of development ventures – one at 1555 Jane Street and another near Bathurst and Wilson – were subjected to intensive scrutiny from councillors Frank DiGiorgio and Mike Del Grande, the current budget chief.
“There was nothing on these projects,” said a former TCHC insider, adding that the politicians “were trying to find dirt and they dragged the office through the mud.”
Councillor Paula Fletcher, whose seven-year term on the housing corporation’s board ended last year, cited “growing pains” in a public body she argued needs more oversight from the city.
“I think there’s a lot of kind of team-building expenses that might be fine in the corporate world, but … I don’t think that’s how anyone thinks a housing corporation should be operating,” she said. “You’re trying to keep people at their job and trying to work there, and if mistakes were made in that, that should be fixed.”