Toronto Public Housing Residents Bring Demands Straight to Feds

Historic rally joins tenants and city officials in demand for repairs funding

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Story Transcript

Produced by Dyan Ruiz and Joseph Smooke

DYAN RUIZ, PRODUCER: In Toronto, Canada, public housing residents are fed up with decades of neglect and are demanding action. Rosie DaSilva lives in a public housing unit on this street. She’s been waiting six years for her landlord to fix her kitchen cabinets. Her landlord is the city’s public housing provider, Toronto Community Housing Corporation. TCHC is the second-largest public housing agency in North America.

ROSIE DA SILVA, PUBLIC HOUSING RESIDENT: I pay the rent, and I expect in return that my landlord would treat me with respect, respond to the request for repairs, and to treat us civilly and like human beings.

RUIZ: Rosie is far from the only person in Toronto waiting for repairs. TCHC has an $862 million repairs backlog. It’s a problem that gets worse and worse every year, affecting many of the over 160,000 TCHC residents.

In a historic protest, public housing residents brought their demand for repairs funding straight to the federal government on November 20. This was the first time Toronto public housing residents joined forces with city representatives and travelled to Ottawa to bring attention to the affordable housing crisis. The bus trip was organized by Toronto’s Affordable Housing Office and Councillor Ana Bailão.

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ANA BAILÃO, CITY OF TORONTO, COUNCILLOR: What do we want?

CROWD: Housing!

BAILÃO: Are you listening Mr. Prime Minister? What do we want?

CROWD: Housing!

BAILÃO: That’s it! We want affordable housing! And we brought a bus of people, of residents, of stakeholders, one politician with the hearts of many politicians that were left at City Hall today, that are working to fight every day at City Hall for affordable housing for our city.

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RUIZ: We asked the president and CEO of TCHC what tenants have to deal with because of the repairs backlog.

EUGENE JONES, PRESIDENT AND CEO, TORONTO COMMUNITY HOUSING: Mold, roof leakage, elevators not working. AC is not working. Heat’s not working. Major systems are not working. It’s not dire needs right now, but if we don’t address it real quickly and soon, that’s what we’re going to be faced with. We’re going to have to close down buildings and move our residents somewhere else.

RUIZ: The main reason why the City of Toronto can’t pay for the repairs is that they inherited the buildings from the federal and provincial government, which made the City responsible for all the public housing under TCHC.

JONES: When they did that, enough capital dollars wasn’t provided to Toronto Community Housing Corporation at that time. And so it just kept on growing and growing and growing.

RUIZ: The repairs backlog is estimated to balloon to over $2.6 billion over the next ten years. Most of Toronto’s public housing is over 40 years old. So the city is facing a huge spike in repair costs in the coming years.

Councillor Bailão and her colleagues on the Affordable Housing Committee came up with a plan to deal with the backlog and started the “Close the Housing Gap” campaign. The plan includes a mix of measures enabling the city to pay a third of the cost of the backlog. They want the federal and provincial government to match that, asking for $864 million over the next ten years, so each level of government pays a third of the cost.

BAILÃO: We’re looking into refinancing of mortgages. We’re looking into energy efficiency projects. We’re looking into efficiency in the operations of Toronto Community Housing. So all this we’ve been looking at. And we’re putting more money from the City of Toronto into the Toronto Community Housing. So now we’ve done what we can. We need the provincial and federal government to step up instead of step back and join us.

RUIZ: In a written statement to The Real News Network, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation said the federal government will invest approximately $2 billion for housing this year. This amount includes all of Canada. Federal funds for affordable housing goes to both the maintenance of existing units and the building of new ones. But the people here say this level of funding is not nearly enough to meet the needs of Canada’s largest city.

SEAN GADON, DIRECTOR, TORONTO AFFORDABLE HOUSING OFFICE: They failed to tell you they’re withdrawing it. So, yeah, a snapshot says, yeah, $2 billion, but 2030 nothing. It’s a problem, a very serious problem. That’s why we’re here today. That’s why they’re not going away.

RUIZ: Maintaining affordable housing isn’t the only problem Toronto residents face. About as many people who live in public housing, over 160,000 people, are on the waitlist for affordable housing. Many people wait more than a decade.

Sherri Williams is a public housing resident who spoke at the rally.

SHERRI WILLIAMS, PUBLIC HOUSING RESIDENT: We have a crisis in Toronto of a very long wait list and a very big backlog of repairs to be done. So that’s why I wanted to come.

RUIZ: She was part of the busload full with 50 other residents and staff of public housing agencies, who were joined in Ottawa by politicians from throughout the nation. Cities across Canada are making affordable housing a top priority. Actions are planned on and around National Housing Day on November 22.

BAILÃO: This is the first time that we’re actually bringing the tenants to join us on our advocacy. Next week a lot of municipal leaders are going to come in here and through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities advocacy days. We wanted to make sure that the tenants were also involved.

RUIZ: Karlene Steer still remembers the day she was told she got affordable housing for her and young sons.

KARLENE STEER, PUBLIC HOUSING RESIDENT: One day I was at work and I was crying, praying, and said, oh, if they could just call me. And I went back up on the floor–I work at a hotel–and while I was up there, the supervisor come up and say, “Oh, there’s a call for you.” And I–“Somebody from housing called for you.” So I went downstairs and I phoned, and she said, “Oh, I have a place for you if you want to go look at it.” And it was very moving. It was like a big burden drop off my shoulder.

RUIZ: Federal leaders from the NDP and the Liberal Party vowed to raise the issue of affordable housing in the House of Commons. Notably absent was a representative from the ruling Conservative government. In their statement to us, there was no mention of whether they plan to meet Toronto’s demand to give an equal amount for the repair costs.

This is Dyan Ruiz for The Real News Network.

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DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.