The race to be Toronto's next mayor shifted from transit plans to the city's aging social housing stock, with John Tory promising to revamp the city's troubled housing corporation and tackle its massive repair backlog and rival Olivia Chow pointing out some of that work is already being done.
Mr. Tory used World Homeless Day Friday to lay out his plans to fix Toronto Community Housing Corp., saying he will assemble a task force of councillors, tenants and housing experts to consider a restructuring of the housing agency and report back next summer. He also promised to immediately start using money he said the city is holding in the hopes the federal and provincial government will pony up their share.
"It is not acceptable policy to have that money in effect sitting in the city's budget and not proceed with it because you are waiting for the other levels of government to come forward," Mr. Tory said at a morning press conference where he was joined by Liberal Senator and former Toronto mayor Art Eggleton.
Ms. Chow shot back, issuing a statement calling his characterization of millions going unused as "100 per cent wrong."
TCHC is the largest public housing landlord in North America. The average age of its properties is 42 years and the agency estimates it will need to do more than $2.6-billion in capital repairs over the next decade.
The agency is taking steps to address the backlog, the result of working group led by Councillor Ana Bailao that issued a report in the fall of 2012. Through mortgage refinancing, the sale of single homes and annual funding from the city, it has doubled its budget for capital projects to $128-million this year from $59-million in 2013, the agency's budget documents show.
At a meeting this week, the agency's board approved $175-million in capital investments next year, with $61.5-million expected to be spent in the first quarter.
"The funding that has been secured by the City of Toronto and Toronto Community Housing is not contingent on matching federal or provincial funding," TCHC spokeswoman Sara Goldvine said in an e-mail. "That said, the funding we have secured will start to run out in 2016, and we will have to wind down our capital program if we do not get the investment we need from higher orders of government."
The agency has "secured" $934-million in capital funding over the next 10 years, but some of that money will not flow until future years, such as $50-million annual contribution pegged to inflation that the city has pledged, she said.
That leaves a shortfall of $1.73-billion, which split three ways would be $864-million each from the city, provincial and federal governments.
Budget documents show the agency had $115-million in capital reserves at the end of last year that is expected to fall to $41-million in 2015 as work is done.
The three front-runners in the race – Mr. Tory, Doug Ford and Ms. Chow – met to debate seniors issues on Friday, but much of the talk centred on the financial holdings of Mr. Tory and Mr. Ford.
Ms. Chow questioned whether Mr. Tory would be able to vote on the controversial issue of expansion of Toronto's island airport because his son works for a company that operates there.
Mr. Tory countered that he would "follow the rules" and promised to sit down with the city's integrity commissioner when elected to discuss the issue. He repeated his promise to resign his seats on the boards of several public companies, including media giant Rogers.
In one of the sharpest exchanges of the debate, Mr. Ford said he would resign if taxes rose above the rate of inflation, but later backtracked from that pledge, telling reporters instead he would vote against tax increases above inflation.