Four years ago, then-councillor Case Ootes railed against what he saw as public-housing profligacy when it emerged the Toronto Community Housing Corporation's stock included half-million-dollar houses.
Now, the interim managing director is in charge of the corporation as it decides what to do with 22 properties that include several in the same tony neighbourhoods he thought were too rich for the housing corporation's blood.
Except now, some of those properties could sell for as much as $2-million.
Last year, the housing corporation set aside 20 houses to transfer to Wigwamen Inc., an aboriginal housing provider. The deal was seen as win-win: The city gave properties it couldn't afford to repair to an organization with funds from other levels of government; social-housing stock remained the same.
At the same time, the TCHC directed staff to make recommendations on an additional 27 single-family houses.
Due to anomalies in the housing corporation's largely multi-unit portfolio, the houses had been singled out because they're woefully run-down. But they're also situated on prime, increasingly rare real estate in a hot market.
In August, council voted to sell five of them to private developers. Those units were replaced with subsidies letting tenants live in private rental units. The fate of another 22 is still in flux.
Mayor Rob Ford has made clear - multiple times during the election campaign, and again after auditor-general Jeff Griffiths' reports came out Feb. 28 - he prefers a social-housing system based on rent subsidies and privately owned properties.
But he has been circumspect about immediate plans for a structural shakeup at the housing corporation.
The more pressing question facing the housing corporation is whether to sell these 22 single-family properties - out of close to 900 in the TCHC's possession - and put the cash into maintaining more manageable multi-unit properties, or try to keep a social-housing foothold in neighbourhoods that are otherwise the redoubt of Toronto's wealthiest homeowners.
TCHC staff are now assessing what best to do with the 22 properties.
"When the Board [now Managing Director]decides how it wishes to proceed, we will report publicly on the rationale for the decision and information about the houses' assessed values," said TCHC spokesman Jeff Ferrier.
Mr. Ootes wasn't available for comment Thursday. In 2007, he said maintaining homes on Ellerbeck Street, where the TCHC is considering selling properties, seemed "not a very effective way of spending our very limited social housing money."
Deciding what to do with these properties was one of the top things on recently ousted CEO Keiko Nakamura's to-do list, says Councillor John Parker. He says it was one of the first things she brought to his attention when he became the mayor's designate on the now-defunct board.
"I'm going to leave that up to Case to make a comment and then the new board will decide that," said Councillor Doug Ford, before adding, "you know I'm a strong believer, if there's a property worth a million dollars, and you can build four or five additional homes if you sell that off and house more people, it just makes common sense - it's good business practice. So, would I be in favour of that, personally."
Mark Guslits, the TCHC's former chief development officer, said there's no simple solution: On the one hand, the corporation could certainly use the cash. But on the other hand, selling those properties for market development would make neighbourhoods even more economically homogeneous.
"Obviously, on the surface, it would look like [selling the properties is]a logical approach. But those houses represent something beyond just the fact that they're deteriorating houses," he said. "They are a foothold in many communities for the ability of lower-income people to live in that community.
"To keep lower-income people scattered throughout communities, I think that's commendable. ... They should still provide housing for the kind of people that live in them now."
They certainly would have no trouble unloading the properties if they did decide to sell: While the lots are too small to interest large-scale condominium developers, they're situated on valuable lots, primarily in the old city of Toronto.
Al Sinclair, a realtor with ReMax Hallmark, said a trio of houses along Wineva just up from the boardwalk in the Beaches could go for as much as $2-million each. Several more on Hubbard could sell for $1.5-million.
"That's prime waterfront real estate."
Steve Deveaux, vice-president of land development at Tribute Communities and co-chair of Toronto's Building Industry and Land Development Association, said the location of the houses would be enough of a draw for small-scale developers.
"There's always a real demand for properties in the locations that they're talking about," he said. "People are paying top dollar for homes that need renovations. In fact, if a building is partially gutted, it almost helps."