There was no favouritism or conflict of interest when senior Toronto Community Housing Corporation staff purchased market-rate condos at the revamped Regent Park public housing project, an independent review has found.
"No Toronto community housing employee received a benefit or preference that was not available to the general public," said Bud Purves, chair of the TCHC.
Purves says the two former executives bought the units to show confidence in the project: "it was launched at a very difficult time so that just gave a lot of stability to the project."
In a report released Friday, former chief justice of the Ontario Superior Court Patrick LeSage concluded that none of the four TCHC employees who bought units at the newly constructed One Cole Condominiums as part of the Regent Park revitalization project — including former CEO Derek Ballantyne — received any benefits or preferences that would have not been afforded to a member of the public.
'If I owned Frito-Lay, I'd want my employees to eat Frito-Lay products. Same thing here.'— Gene Jones, TCHC CEO
Ballantyne and another former executive, Gordon Chu, were able to purchase parking spots in the summer of 2009 for $9,500, well below the full $22,000 parking price. But the report found that the majority of the parking space purchasers paid that same lower price.
The kind of price they got was consistent with the prices that other buyers who were purchasing units at the time, LeSage found, and "it would be unreasonable to conclude Chu and Ballantyne received a preferential benefit."
He concluded that he believed "no executives or employees of TCHC were in a conflict of interest in purchasing these condominiums."
The employees and executives also did not receive any affordable housing loans or any associated upgrades, LeSage wrote.
However, LeSage didn't dismiss the possibility that a reasonable person might view the purchase as having the "appearance" of a conflict of interest.
LeSage recommended that transactions associated with future purchases of TCHC property by staff and executives be disclosed in a public registry in the interest of transparency.
The TCHC said it has accepted that recommendation, and is now moving to implement the public registry.
The purchases had been made at a time when the economy was experiencing a downturn and there were doubts about the viability of the project, LeSage wrote. Ballantyne has said he made the purchase in part to show he had confidence in the project.
New TCHC CEO Gene Jones said employees should be free to purchase agency homes if they so wish.
"Because it shows a level of support, that we believe in our product. And it's just like anything else. If I owned Frito-Lay, I'd want my employees to eat Frito-Lay products. Same thing here," he said.
LeSage's report was commissioned by the TCHC in April following media reports that raised questions about the integrity about the purchase process.