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Toronto Art Eggleton picked to lead overhaul of Toronto community-housing body

Art Eggleton is shown on Sept. 17, 2010.

FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Mayor John Tory has appointed Senator Art Eggleton to lead a task force examining the governance of Toronto's troubled social housing corporation.

Mr. Tory made the announcement Friday, as he described the current state of Toronto Community Housing, Canada's largest social housing provider, as "unacceptable." He said the six-person task force will look at all options for improvement – including the idea of splitting up the large organization.

"It's clear to me that the structure, as it has been for some time, is not working that well," Mr. Tory told reporters at a Regent Park community housing development. "I would hope that the task force will focus itself on asking what kind of structure can help this organization do a better job for all of us, and a better job for the residents of TCHC."

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In recent years, the housing provider has been plagued with leadership problems – most recently with the departure of CEO Eugene Jones after a scathing report from ombudsman Fiona Crean accused him of running the agency as his "personal fiefdom."

At the same time, the agency is struggling to reduce a $2.6-billion repair backlog, and still waiting on a response from the provincial and federal governments to a request to cover two-thirds of that amount.

The mayor appealed to the other governments for that funding Friday, describing the province's downloading of housing responsibilities to the city over the last few decades as an "acute and unfair burden."

Mr. Eggleton, who has a long history in Toronto politics – including four terms as mayor – said Friday that he's open to all options for the TCHC, including reorganization.

"It's a huge organization that's trying to manage a lot of housing," he said. "I think the TCH board has tried to deal with a lot of them, but I think we need a fundamental look at this whole structure."

Ana Bailao, chair of the city's affordable housing committee, said the task force should look at "all the possibilities" for governance models.

"We serve a lot of tenants. We serve seniors, we serve supportive housing. Should we maybe have some departments – like real estate and developments – more centralized, and others not? It's these issues we need to look at," she said.

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Mr. Tory's task force will also include former TD Bank CEO Ed Clark; Oxford Properties CEO Blake Hutcheson; University of Toronto professor Janet Mason; TCHC tenant representative Muna Mohamed; and former president of WoodGreen Community Services Brian Smith.

Mr. Clark, who retired as TD CEO late last year, has been a long-time champion of affordable housing, and a key contributor behind Homeward Bound, a non-profit aimed at helping homeless women find affordable housing. In November of last year, he gave a speech to the Economic Club of Canada encouraging Toronto's wealthiest citizens to donate more of their money to social issues such as affordable housing.

"I look at it and say – in my case, at a minimum I have four children – I should think of myself as having at least five children, and the fifth child is the child I don't have but is out on the street," he said on CBC's Metro Morning.

Former mayor Rob Ford questioned Mr. Tory's move.

"I don't know why we need a task force. I think we just go up to their front doors and deal with these people," he said. As mayor, Mr. Ford chose a personal approach to dealing with TCHC residents, often visiting in person to deal with problems and referring to himself as "the king" of helping community housing residents.

"Sitting in a boardroom discussing things? That's not my way of doing politics," he said.

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