Toronto Community Housing Corp. has shown a pattern of “callous” treatment to many vulnerable seniors, says a city ombudsman’s report that accuses the country’s largest landlord of ignoring its own guidelines by proceeding with unfair evictions.
The 110-page report, by ombudsman Fiona Crean, was released Thursday. The report says Ms. Crean investigated the files of 79 seniors who were evicted in 2011 and 2012 and found eviction is not being used as a last resort, as TCHC policy stipulates.
The report highlights the cases of several seniors who Ms. Crean says were unfairly forced out of their homes.
One man was late in reporting a change in his income and was suddenly told he owed more than $3,000. He accumulated further arrears and died from a heart attack three weeks after eviction.
A woman with developmental disabilities who had lived in her home for 30 years had eviction proceedings commence against her following some noise complaints. TCHC staff had hoped starting the proceedings would change the woman’s behaviour. She was also stripped of her subsidy after unverified reports her partner had moved in. TCHC later admitted that it shouldn’t have taken away the woman’s subsidy, or evicted her when she was unable to pay.
TCHC had vowed to change its practices following the 2009 death of Al Gosling. Mr. Gosling died at the age of 81, five months after he was left homeless. His death prompted an inquiry.
Ms. Crean said TCHC has since shown “little change in the practices relating to vulnerable seniors.”
“The general approach to seniors who fall into arrears is too often harsh and unthinking. The impact of inconsistent policy and the ignoring of the stated mission and goals carry detrimental consequences for vulnerable tenants and are contrary to the City’s stated values and goals,” she wrote.
“The disconnect between documented policy and actual practice is a significant failure and is especially worrying given the vulnerability of seniors living in public housing.”
Ms. Crean made 30 recommendations, including that staff be better trained.
Mayor Rob Ford said the report is “not good” but he hasn’t had an opportunity to discuss it with Gene Jones, TCHC’s president and chief executive officer.
“I’m pretty floored by some of the stuff that I have read in that report,” Mayor Ford said.
Mr. Jones said he will implement all of the recommendations “in a timely manner.” He thanked Ms. Crean for her investigation and called her work valuable.
Mr. Jones said preventing evictions is a “complex issue” and that TCHC must consider all of the factors when vulnerable residents face eviction for not paying rent.
“Are we going to still evict? Yes, we’re going to evict for not paying rent. But we’re going to do it humanely and make sure that we do everything possible to ensure that they’re getting the services that they need,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is evict someone. But we do have to collect rent.”
He said TCHC will set clear expectations with staff, better train them, and improve relationships with social services and support agencies.
Mr. Jones said it’s possible some employees will be disciplined in the wake of the report, but declined to provide further details.
Councillor Adam Vaughan said the report confirms the TCHC situation has gotten worse, not better, under Mayor Rob Ford.
“We have a surplus right now. That surplus should be deployed not into paying down the debts, but into actually providing better services,” the councillor said.
With a report from Kat Sieniuc