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Toronto Tenants angered by Ford's comments on privatizing social housing

Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Toronto community housing tenants voiced their concerns Monday over remarks made by Mayor Rob Ford on privatizing social housing in the city.

After the damning audit released on the Toronto Community Housing Corp. last week, Mr. Ford told Newstalk 1010 that he would be open to the idea of privatizing social housing. However, he was not be specific about what exactly his plans are or when he plans to pursue privatization.

Although not condoning the TCHC actions, the tenants say privatization of social housing would be detrimental to them.

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"We're not for sale," said Susan Gapka, a social housing tenant. "Mayor Ford's comments make us feel like we're commodities to be bought and sold."

Wally Simpson, another senior TCHC tenant, said the tenants were never approached by Mr. Ford or city council to discuss their views on social housing or the TCHC board.

"These are not just bricks and mortar you're talking about, but people's homes and lives," Mr. Simpson said. "Selling these homes won't make our communities stronger at all. It just raises the rent."

The TCHC houses 164,000 tenants and owns a $6-billion housing stock. Privatizing the organization would be a complicated and lengthy task - facing opposition from some councillors and restrictions in provincial law, which have rules on the size of the city's social housing stock.

Munira Abukar, an 18-year-old youth living in TCHC, said the city has already witnessed the problems that arise from privatizing social housing.

"We know what private managed buildings look like," she said. "They look like 200 Wellesley, where 1700 people were left homeless after a devastating fire that made the whole building unlivable. It looks like Neptune Court, when tenants had to petition the TCHC to take back direct management of a property run by private landlords, because service was so bad. How much more proof do you need that this isn't good?"

Ms. Abukar, who received a scholarship made available by the TCHC that lets her study at Ryerson University, is concerned that such opportunities will dry up if social housing is privatized.

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"There is no guarantee that youth like myself will have the options like these scholarships," she said.

Ms. Gapka said the scathing audit provided an opportunity to improve services and efficiency at TCHC. Instead, it is being used as "political football" by Mr. Ford, she said. The tenants were also upset that Mayor Ford asked for the resignation of their elected two TCHC representatives, saying the they should have been the ones to ask for the resignation of their board members.

"This undermines our democratic and electoral process," Ms. Gapka said. "It's a very bad precedent to set, because it means we have no control over who represents us ... and someone from the outside can just step in and decide for us."

Ms. Catherine Wilkinson is one of the two elected TCHC board members who has refused to step down despite of the mayor's call for the whole board's resignation.

"What is at stake here is the democratic process," said Ms. Wilkinson, a long-time activist who has lived in public housing for 14 years. "And we will be there to protest the board being disbanded like this."

Council is set to discuss the disbanding of the board on March 8 and 9.

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