Greg Spearn steps down from Toronto Community Housing, agency confirms

Greg Spearn has left his post as interim CEO of Toronto Community Housing "for personal reasons," according to the TCH board chair.

Interim CEO leaves as TCH could close hundreds of units by end of 2017

Former TCH interim CEO Greg Spearn told Metro Morning earlier this month that the current funding model for TCH is 'unsustainble.' (CBC)

Greg Spearn has left his post as interim CEO of Toronto Community Housing "for personal reasons," according to the TCH board chair.

At the TCH board meeting Tuesday, chair Bud Purves said Spearn will step down "to pursue new professional opportunities."

"Greg has provided stability and growth at a time of immense challenges," Purves said in a statement. "We appreciate his commitment and our entire Board and staff leadership team wish him well on the next phase of his professional career."

Board vice-chair Kevin Marshman will step down from his post and assume the CEO role on an interim basis.

The search for a permanent CEO is expected to wrap up in a few months, according to Purves.

Mayor John Tory thanked Spearn for his service and wished him well in his future endeavours. He also said he is looking forward to working with Marshman.

"Mr. Marshman has served as vice-chair of the board since 2015 and has several years of experience leading corporations including service as president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity," Tory said in a statement. "I am confident that Toronto Community Housing is in good hands as the search for a permanent CEO continues."

Tory noted that the city's ongoing investment in fixing the current housing stock, in addition to funds from the federal government's pledge of billions for social housing infrastructure, will all help catch up on a repair backlog.

"TCHC residents should know that I am dedicated to making sure community housing is a healthy and safe place to live," Tory said.

In his opening remarks at today's board meeting, Purves noted that Spearn stepped up to help residents affected by the ice storm of 2013, before he was in the top job. Spearn became interim CEO in April 2014.

Spearn also oversaw revitalization projects at 250 Davenport Road, Alexandra Park and Lawrence Heights, Purves noted. 

Spearn defended unit closures

But earlier this month, Spearn had to defend the agency's decision to shutter 134 townhouse units in the Jane and Finch area, saying that when work crews initially went in to do repairs, the units were in "worse shape" than previously thought. 

In an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning, Spearn admitted that close to 1,000 units could be shuttered by the end of the year. He blamed the fact that when TCH was established 15 years ago, there was no capital reserve fund for repairs.

"We had less than a dollar per square foot per year to fix our homes, and as a result they have deteriorated to the state they are in today," Spearn told Metro Morning.

The city is slated to spend $250 million on repairs to public-housing units this year. But according to Spearn, if TCH doesn't get the funding it needs to continue repairs next year and into 2019, as many as 7,500 units could be boarded up by 2022.

The current model is "unsustainable," Spearn said.

"It needs a significant injection of resources to be able to continue on its current path."

TCH needs more than a new CEO, advocates say

The organization's instability, however, is about more than the person heading TCH, the executive director of Alexandra Park Community Centre said.

Donna Harrow said the corporation overseeing community housing should set goals with local school boards, recreation groups, policing and mental health organizations.

"I believe that the CEO leaving is just a symptom of the bigger systems that need to be overhauled," Harrow said. "I'm disappointed that, yet again, we have another change. But this means we have a lot of work to do in terms of looking at the system as a whole and how it responds to its residents."

Donna Harrow, executive director of Alexandra Park Community Centre, said it's more important to fix TCH than to find a new CEO. (Barry Smith/CBC)

That's why Cheryl Duggan, a TCH tenant for more than 30 years, suggests that the city consider dividing the corporation's responsibilities among several leaders. 

Instead of searching for one chief executive officer, Duggan suggested the board of directors consider changing the governance of TCH.

"Maybe it shouldn't be just one person at the top handling the whole portfolio," she said Tuesday. "Maybe they should be dividing it up and making it more manageable, because I think would hopefully prevent some of the catastrophes that have been happening financially."

With files from Nick Boisvert and Makda Ghebreslassie