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Toronto public housing should retain most of its single-family homes: report

Toronto Councillor Ana Bailao's report stemmed from a compromise hammered out with Mayor Rob Ford in January.

Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

Toronto's social-housing agency should hold on to 90 per cent of the single-family homes its board originally advocated selling, according to a much-anticipated report that rejects Mayor Rob Ford's call for a larger selloff.

A special working group chaired by centrist Councillor Ana Bailao recommended Monday that the Toronto Community Housing Corp. sell only 55 of its 619 single-family homes. It said TCHC should turn to other methods to chip away at the agency's $750-million repair backlog, including converting up to 100 of the properties for affordable home ownership.

In March, council agreed to divest itself of 56 vacant homes, leaving the fate of the rest in the hands of Ms. Bailao and a committee that was created when it became clear Mr. Ford did not have enough votes to get a mass sale through council. The mayor had advocated the sale to pay for repairs to the agency's crumbling buildings.

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Now, the question is whether Ms. Bailao can get her plan past the mayor's executive committee. She believes she has the necessary support on council and from Ontario Housing Minister Kathleen Wynne, whom Ms. Bailao briefed last week. (Ms. Wynne was not available for an interview Monday.)

"My read of executive committee is they might not agree to … not selling more of TCHC's scattered units," said Councillor Peter Milczyn, a member of the committee.

The mayor's office said it has received the report but was unable to comment further.

Ms. Bailao, also the chair of the affordable housing committee, earlier offered to brief Mr. Ford and his staff on her recommendations last week, but they were not available.

She gave a copy to Mr. Ford's chief of staff Friday and spoke with the official about it over the weekend.

"I still don't know how they feel about not selling the 619 homes," Ms. Bailao said in an interview.

"Our worry was how do we solve the big issue? The reality is 619 homes was not going to solve the repair backlog. It was going to bring us $220-million over five years. And then what?" she said.

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Ms. Bailao's report recommends tackling the social housing agency's immense repair backlog in two phases.

The first, which is expected to raise more than $120-million in two years, would include: Selling the 56 homes council has already approved; selling the additional 55 identified in the report; selling up to 100 homes to current tenants, possibly with the help of Habitat for Humanity; finding $10-million in internal efficiencies; and tapping a development-charges reserve fund for subsidized housing.

The second phase is focused on longer-term solutions to which a specific dollar figure is not attached. The group is recommending TCHC refinance its mortgages – some of which are locked in at rates as high as 13 per cent – maximize its bond borrowing, and look at transferring 5,000 market units in mixed-income social housing buildings to a real estate investment trust.

The 55 homes recommended for sale – 38 of which are occupied – are scattered across seven wards.

Ms. Bailao hopes the 38 families can be moved to other TCHC-owned single-family homes nearby so the "shock isn't so big."

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said that if Ms. Bailao has found a concrete way to pay off the repair backlog, he is ready to listen.

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"But it has to be reasonable and practical. You can't just be clutching at straws or hoping the tooth fairy's going to bring it."

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Health reporter

Kelly Grant is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail. More


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