Metro Morning

TCH head defends unit closures, says they are in 'worse shape' than staff thought

A set of Toronto Community Housing units that had been slated for repair was in “worse shape” than originally thought and there’s no choice but to tear them down and relocate the residents, says the interim CEO of TCH.

Nearly 1,000 Toronto Community Housing Units could be shuttered by end of the year

This building at Jane and Finch is one of the TCH developments set to be torn down. (CBC)

A set of Toronto Community Housing units that had been slated for repair was in "worse shape" than originally thought and there's no choice but to tear them down and relocate the residents, says the interim CEO of TCH.

The mayor's executive committee is meeting at City Hall today and will be presented with plans to shutter some TCH units, including 134 townhouse units in the Jane and Finch area, while investing in the redevelopment of other buildings including a 13-storey downtown brick tower in disrepair that sits nearly empty.

The move to close the townhouse units has upset local residents, who worry about not only moving from their long-time homes but perhaps to an unfamiliar part of the city.

TCH interim CEO Greg Spearn said Wednesday that the residents' plight "weighs on me very heavily." However, the structures are beyond repair and must be torn down for the safety of the residents.

"When we came to the site to start doing the repairs, we found that in trying to mount additional insulation panels on the outside of the building that the wall structure had crumbled and would not support any new panels. So it literally created holes in the buildings when we tried to mount panels," Spearn told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Wednesday.

The building was in "worse shape than we originally thought."

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

TCH staff are meeting with each resident of the 134 units to determine their individual circumstances before a suitable new home is found, Spearn said. Efforts will be made to keep them in or near the community.

Edna Rose has lived in her townhome for 31 years, and would like TCH to do repairs rather than move her out. She planted fruit trees out back, always tends her garden and maintains her unit as best she can, she said.

"What they are doing to me, it's not right," Rose told CBC Toronto. "Because an old woman like me, I don't even know how I'm going to start packing."

She said the prospect of leaving her home has left her depressed and sent her blood pressure soaring.

"It's a shame," she said. "Housing should be ashamed of themselves."

Current model 'unsustainable'

Other TCH units across the city are also in such a state of disrepair that close to 1,000 could be shuttered by the end of the year.

Asked how so many units could be allowed to fall into disrepair, Spearn said 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 have deteriorated to the state they are in today," Spearn said.

TCH will accommodate residents in units that need to close by keeping other units vacant, he said, which puts further strain on a wait list for community housing that is already decades-long.

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."

Province 'not playing its full part,' Tory says

On Tuesday, Tory put the blame on previous governments "of all stripes and all levels," and said maintaining and building public housing in the city must be a joint effort with the provincial and federal governments.

"The longer you leave it, it doesn't get better, it gets worse," Tory told Metro Morning.

He accused the Ontario government of "not playing its full part," but is hopeful funds will be set aside in next week's provincial budget.

Meantime, it remains unclear what will become of the public housing development at Jane and Finch after the residents are moved out and the buildings torn down.

Tory said the neighbourhood will be revitalized, similar to efforts in Regent Park and Lawrence Heights, but there's no concrete plan for how that will be done.

Different options are being explored, including talks with private partners who can help with funding to rebuild, Spearn said.

For now, he says, "We don't have the money for it."

With files from John Rieti