TCH tenants waiting years to leave apartments that endanger their health and safety, city ombudsman says

A new report by the city’s ombudsman says Toronto Community Housing tenants who feel their health or safety is threatened in their units are languishing for years on a ‘stagnant, bloated’ waiting list to transfer to a new home.

Ombudsman says city gives residents ‘false hope’ of transfer by putting them on ‘bloated’ waiting list

Public housing residents face years-long waits and 'arbitrary' staff decision making when they request a unit transfer for medical or safety reasons, a city ombudsman's report says. TCH officials declared this Bleecker Street unit uninhabitable in 2017. (John Rieti/CBC)

A new report by the city's ombudsman says Toronto Community Housing (TCH) tenants who feel their health or safety is threatened in their units are languishing for years on a 'stagnant, bloated' waiting list to transfer to a new home.  

The investigation was launched after two complaints were made by households who said their applications for a safety transfer were unfairly denied.

In one case, a young mother applied for a transfer after she saw a violent crime outside of her TCH building and later discovered an intruder had entered her unit and hidden a gun inside her child's drawer.

In the other, a family requested a transfer after someone "fired gunshots into their living room and their children were assaulted coming home from school."

The TCH 'Medical and Safety at Risk' list exists to give tenants who say their unit affects their health or safety a way to transfer - but doesn't work well in practice, the city's ombudsman says. (Petar Valkov/CBC)

Ombudsman Susan Opler says TCH gives tenants "false hope" by putting them on their "Medical and Safety at Risk priority list."

Her office's investigation found that more than half of eligible households on the list — which currently has 1,500 households on it — wait for five years or more.

Report blasts 'arbitrary' staff decision making

Part of the reason for the delay is that tenants who are "overhoused" — meaning they have extra bedrooms in their unit and can be transferred to a smaller space — are treated as a priority ahead of the medical and safety transfer requests.

This is done "so that the TCH can maximize effective use of its housing portfolio," according to a press release put out by the ombudsman's office.

Compounding the problem, Opler said, is the "inconsistent process and arbitrary decision making by staff," who have no written procedures on how to determine who is eligible for medical or safety transfers and who often give "inadequate explanations for their decisions."

The list also fails to take into account the "severity or urgency" of a household's situation.

TCH agrees to 21 recommendations

In response to the report, TCH has agreed to take on a series of recommendations to fix the problem, including the creation of a "crisis" transfer category that will see applications expedited ahead of the "overhoused" transfer list. 

They have committed to see that through by June 30, 2018.

The TCH has also agreed to create "clearly defined criteria" to identify who should be in the crisis category and to provide tenants with clear information about how the different lists work.