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City struggles as tenants with mental health issues destroy housing

Social housing units are destroyed every year by people with mental health issues who shouldn't be in them without support in the first place, the city's social housing provider says — but it lacks the resources to do anything about it.

CityHousing Hamilton has an annual capital shortfall of $8 million

CityHousing Hamilton has 100 unliveable units because tenants have destroyed them. Some have mental health issues, the CEO says, but the agency doesn't have the resources to help. (Reuters/Fred Prouser) (Fred Prouser/Reuters)

Social housing units are destroyed every year by people with mental health issues who shouldn't be in them without support in the first place, the city's social housing provider says — but it lacks the resources to do anything about it.

Right now, Hamilton's waiting list for social housing is around 5,700 people. Meanwhile, about 100 units sit vacant with destroyed carpets, holes punched in walls and other damage that makes them unrentable. The cost to repair them? $1.2 million.

CityHousing Hamilton (CHH) knows the reason for some of the damaged units, said CEO Tom Hunter. There are tenants with mental health issues who need housing, but also need to support to stay housed and keep the unit in good condition. That includes people with hoarding or isolation issues.

But CHH just doesn't have the money to counsel them, nor the resources to properly screen tenants to know what they need before the units are destroyed, Hunter said.

City manager Chris Murray agreed.

"There is a wide range of costs that are occurring day after day because we're unable to address the needs of people," he said.

Hunter outlined this and other struggles in a report to councillors during a general issues committee meeting on Wednesday. He portrayed an agency with mounting bills that is also struggling with mounting demand.

Every year, he said, CHH is $8 million short of what it needs to build and repair its units. It spent $13.3 million of its $67.5-million budget in 2014 on maintenance, $1.7 million of which was on pest control.

The current maintenance demand is too much for local taxpayers to handle, Hunter said. As politicians pressure the provincial and federal governments for more housing dollars, CHH is looking at its housing stock to see if there are any units that can be sold or consolidated.

"The objective is to have a net increase in affordable housing," he said.

To that end, CHH is looking at the future of two of its major buildings, 500 MacNab (146 units) and the Jamesville complex of 92 family townhouses in the North End. Hunter will report back on that in October.

Meanwhile, of the damaged units, Hunter said CHH has some support.

At 95 Hess, for example, there's an office with workers who can help tenants with mental health issues and housing. At another, a personal support worker works with tenants.

Money for those programs typically come from other agencies, such as the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN).

Here are some highlights of Hunter's report:

  • CHH has 66 vacant apartment units and it will cost about $390,000 to repair them so people can live in them.
  • It has 18 townhouse units that will cost $340,000 to make habitable.
  • It has 10 vacant single and semi-detached homes that will cost about $510,000 to repair.
  • CHH has 7,000 units, 17,000 tenants and 1,200 properties.
  • It has an annual capital shortfall of $8 million.
  • Most of CHH's tenants are seniors (3,067). There are also 2,494 families and 636 single people.

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