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Mayor Ford assails Premier after province refuses to approve public housing sell-off

The semi-detached house at 3 Hubbard Boulevard, sits right off the shore of Lake Ontario and was valued at $970,000, in Toronto's The Beach neighbourhood on June 23, 2011. This is one of Toronto Community Housing Corporation's social houses up for sale by the city.

Michelle Siu For The Globe and Mail/michelle siu The Globe and Mail

The province is delaying Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and council's plan to sell 65 single-family homes valued at more than $24-million to pay for repairs to the city's crumbling public-housing stock, The Globe and Mail has learned.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Kathleen Wynne is refusing to grant the necessary approvals to sell the Toronto Community Housing Corporation properties – all but one vacant – until a report on the fate of another 619 TCHC homes goes to council in the fall.

The delay, communicated in a May 30 letter from Ms. Wynne, prompted a sharp response from Mr. Ford. His office wrote directly to the premier asking him to intervene.

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"City council has already made its decisions on the sale of the 65 houses awaiting Ministerial Consent and does not intend to reopen those decisions," Mr. Ford wrote.

The June 7 letter closes with a reference to Dalton McGuinty's earlier decision to side with council against the mayor on whether to build light-rail over subways.

"In speaking to other matters in the past, you have stated that you will honour the will of council. I urge you to do so again and respect the will of council on this most pressing matter."

At the heart of the fight over the single-family homes is a question about how best to spend the limited resources at the TCHC's disposal. Should the country's largest public-housing authority sell those properties to the highest bidder and plow the proceeds into its $750-million repair backlog? Or fix up the homes so TCHC can continue to provide some poor tenants the chance to live in well-off neighbourhoods?

Ms. Wynne said in an interview that sustaining mixed-income communities is one of the reasons she is postponing her decision until a special working group, chaired by Councillor Ana Bailao, reports to council in October.

"I just think that it's important that we look at the overall plan that the city will have for maintaining supply and for that kind of mixed community that I think is healthy for the city," Ms. Wynne said.

But council has already voted on selling the 65 homes, 10 of which have been waiting nearly a year for ministerial signoff. Those 10 were part of a batch of 22 that council voted to sell in June, 2011.

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Council voted in March of this year to sell another 56, all but one of which required ministerial approval. (Such approval is necessary whenever TCHC wants to sell off a property once owned by the province's old public-housing agency.)

Mr. Ford and the TCHC board were in favour of selling 675 single-family homes, more than three-quarters of TCHC's 870 stand-alone units. Ms. Bailao and her supporters persuaded the mayor to put off selling the occupied homes until a working group could study the dilemma, including finding other ways to reduce the housing authority's repair backlog.

"I understand … that the mayor is not interested in reopening the issue, but the mayor is not council," Ms. Wynne said, stressing her decision is only a delay, not a rejection.

However, Ms. Bailao said her group has no intention of revisiting council's decisions to sell the 65 homes awaiting Ms. Wynne's approval.

"We're looking at how to move forward," Ms. Bailao said. "This was a decision and a discussion that happened before and I think the decision is done and we need that cash to get started."

Plunking for-sale signs in front of the 65 TCHC homes could rake in more than their assessed value of $24-million, if previous sales are any guide.

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Of the 22 homes approved for sale in June 2011, three have been sold on the open market. The single-family homes at 229 Crawford, 761 Crawford and 789 Crawford, in the sought-after Trinity-Bellwoods area, fetched a total of $2.64-million, much more than their total assessed value of $1.67-million

Another batch of five TCHC homes, approved for sale under David Miller's council in August, 2010, sold for a total of $3.45-million, also well above their assessed combined value of $3.2-million.

Bud Purves, the chair of the TCHC board, warned that the "gradual degradation" of TCHC's more than 55,000 units will continue if the housing authority doesn't find more cash soon to make repairs.

But Michael Shapcott, the director of housing for the Wellesley Institute, one of the organizations that urged Ms. Wynne to delay the sales, urged Torontonians to look at the bigger picture.

"The question most Torontonians need to ask themselves is, 'What kind of city do we want to live in?' Do we want to live in one that's radically divided by income with all the implications of that?"

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