The head of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association says social housing managers have responsibilities that private landlords don't — including doing everything possible to avoid evicting tenants.
Sharad Kerur's comment comes in the wake of a CBC News report this week that said some Thunder Bay tenants feel threatened by other residents.
Kerur said, although violence cannot be tolerated and should be dealt with by police, evicting tenants perceived to be causing problems is not necessarily the answer.
"All you will end up doing is exasperating the problems ... in society and putting these individuals back on the street and back into the shelter system," he said. "And back into an environment that fails to provide the necessary support services that the individual actually needs."
However, Kerur added, "it’s not the [social housing] landlord's role or responsibility to enforce the criminal code. It's the police's responsibility. And I would be very surprised if landlords ... tolerate that kind of thing for a very long period of time."
Social housing's mandate is not only to provide shelter, but also to support tenants — either directly or by linking them to services in the community, Kerur added.
He said media reports can sometimes create the false impression that security incidents happen more often in social housing buildings. Kerur emphasized that criminal activity and violence occur in privately run buildings too.
'Prevent it from happening in the first place'
Kerur said social housing providers across the province use a variety of measures to improve security.
"A lot of our larger members have their own ... community safety forces to be able to go and patrol buildings at their own expense," he said.
"Surveillance cameras is another example to provide security. Lighting an area and doing an audit of how well-lit the area is, is another sort of environmental measure to be able to provide safety."
However, Kerur said, it's important to go beyond these kinds of solutions when addressing security issues and determine the root of the problem.
"Diagnosing, almost like a doctor, and figuring out what the situation is and then providing a solution to be able to prevent it from happening in the first place," he said.
Those solutions could mean community or school-based interventions to prevent criminal activities by youth in the area, he said. Social housing providers could also work with health agencies to help people living with mental illness.
But, Kerur pointed out, "it does come down to, at the end of the day, what the financial capacity is of the social housing provider to ... do all of these things."
The Thunder Bay District Social Services Board, which manages social housing, is doing security audits and building condition assessments on its properties this year.