Posts Tagged: housing

Mar 11

Board out, Ootes in

Earlier today, a new agenda item was added for this week’s council meeting. The item, MM5.7, moved by Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and (kind of interestingly) seconded by Mary-Margaret McMahon, calls for the TCHC Board of Directors to be dissolved and replaced with a Managing Director, who is not named.

Thanks to the Globe & Mail’s Kelly Grant, we now know that Managing Director will be Case Ootes, former councillor and the man who led Rob Ford’s transition team:

The former councillor who led Mayor Rob Ford’s transition team is the administration’s choice to temporarily replace the ousted board of Toronto’s embattled public housing agency, The Globe has learned.

Case Ootes is recommended as the managing director of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, according to a city hall source.

via Case Ootes recommended to be temporary TCHC director – The Globe and Mail.

A little digging shows that Ootes once called for the sale of all TCHC-owned single family homes (starting with three in his ward), proposing that profits from the sales go to rent subsidies and TCHC high-rise buildings. He did say at the time, though, that he was “all for not creating ghettos.” Which is, I guess, good news.

Mar 11

Ex-TCHC board member Mammoliti: in my defence, I skipped all the morning meetings

In an interview with the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale, Giorgio Mammoliti, who sat on the TCHC Board from 2001 until recently, embarrasses the hell out of himself in a weird attempt to disassociate himself from the ongoing scandal:

“The mayor wants a change at the board,” he said, “and I agree with the mayor that there should be a change at the board. I never asked for the board to go, I just agreed with the mayor.”

via Mammoliti: I was a ‘responsible’ TCHC board member –

Translation: I just agree with the mayor on everything!

“A lot of this stuff that’s coming forward never even came to the board. So it’s not all the board’s responsibility,” Mammoliti said. “But — they oversee it. And when you oversee it, and there’s a change, as the mayor’s proposing to do, then that’s why I support the change.”

Translation: It wasn’t my responsibility but the mayor thinks the new board should take responsibility and I always agree with the mayor. Even though I filed a human rights complaint against him once.

This is the best part, though:

The fixtures deal, the auditor reported, was split into small increments to avoid board oversight. Mammoliti offered another reason he might never have heard about it: committees sometimes met by telephone at 8 a.m., when he was busy with his family.

“It could’ve been discussed in the morning meetings, I don’t know. I never partook in those early morning meetings because I’ve gotta take my daughter to school,” he said.

Translation: I’m not responsible for anything because the meetings were held way too early in the morning.

Mar 11

TCHC as an ‘ambitious property developer’

Writing for Spacing, John Lorinc speculates that the root of TCHC’s problems may have been that they behaved “much more like an ambitious property developer than a responsive property manager:”

Effective development, of course, demands both schmoozing and speed, so it is not a stretch to imagine that the TCHC’s senior managers — energized by an obviously challenging mission — may have become more than a little impressed by the urbane ways of the city’s building industry. After all, the perks and procurement short-cuts unearthed by the auditor-general wouldn’t be out of place in the development industry, where time-to-market is a major competitive issue.

Incent your employees to deliver projects on time and on budget? Check.

Go with a supplier that says it can get the job done faster? Check, check.

I’m not excusing the conduct, but we can’t ignore the wider context, either.

via LORINC: The Toronto Community Housing Conundrum « Spacing Toronto.

Or to put it another way: a public agency was acting too much like a private corporation. (Ignore anyone who ever uses the phrase “This would never happen in the private sector,” by the way. Everything happens in the private sector. Shitty management practices were practically invented by the private sector.)

Handing TCHC’s development work (on Regent Park and Lawrence Heights, amongst others) to another city agency is a sensible reform worth looking at.

After you read Lorinc’s piece, scroll down and check out Steve Munro’s comment as well. He reminds us that, seriously, the chocolates and pedicures and whatever else aren’t the real story here. Abuses of the city’s procurement process cost us far more, and are way less forgivable.

Mar 11

One of Canada’s Top Employers: putting the TCHC scandal in context

On Thursday, I noticed on Twitter that Toronto Community Housing was one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers, declared as such by Mediacorp Canada. At Torontoist, Steve Kupferman dug into the story:

This year, TCHC nabbed a spot on a list of Canada’s top one hundred employers, put together annually by Mediacorp Canada Inc., a company that publishes employment guides, and runs a job-search website. TCHC was also on the list in 2009 and 2010.

Did you know that TCHC’s work atmosphere “is rated as above-average,” and that employees enjoy casual dress, and can listen to music while they work?

via TCHC Named One of Canada’s Top 100 Employers in 2011 – Torontoist.

What really strikes me is how this shifts the whole character of the story. The general spin is that TCHC employees were cackling while getting manicures, eating expensive chocolates and attending awesome Christmas parties, all paid for with tax dollars. (Though, on another note, OpenFile tells us that the Christmas Parties? Probably weren’t that awesome.)

I suppose that’s true in a sense — minus, probably, the cackling –, but the “Top 100 Employers” thing gives me pause. TCHC management obviously valued their “Top 100 Employers” ranking. The logo is still displayed prominently in the banner on their website. They got that ranking for providing strong benefits for employees, and that extends to ‘cultural benefits’ — things like social events, Christmas parties, non-monetary incentive programs, etc.

If you follow the Human Resources profession at all, you’d know that issues like employee recruitment, retention and incentive programs are big deals. There are whole companies dedicated to providing non-monetary ‘rewards’ to employees who do a good job. It’s a trend.

I’m speculating, but it seems possible that TCHC management bought into this kind of HR strategy without considering the implications and optics of doing so. It’s a question of a corporate strategy that emphasized HR policy apparently at the expense of customer service.

As far as the expenses side of this story goes, I’ve yet to hear of anything that goes beyond what you might see in private sector companies that have adopted more progressive HR strategies. The part of the auditor general’s report relating to procurement is another, more troubling and expensive, matter.

I know that kind of de-sexys the story a bit, but I believe that to find the kind of positive change necessary we need people who can look at this from an angle beyond “MY TAX DOLLARS!!!!”

Mar 11

TCHC: What happens after everyone gets fired?

Royson James:

Mitchell accepts responsibility for the corporation’s failure to follow tendering and procurement policies. A decentralized system allowed managers to use “poor judgment, no judgment, and not do things the right way. I realize the stuff happened on my watch and I have to take responsibility,” though he says some decisions resulted in savings and social good.

The relationship with the new regime at city hall was non-existent. Ford never asked to meet with him, Mitchell says, even though Toronto Housing has $6 billion in assets.

While he had the cellphone number of ex-mayor David Miller and spoke with him three times a month, Ford has never called. “This gentleman,” he said, “is more interested in looking for gravy.”

via James: What’s behind the TCHC resignations –

It’s kind of interesting that our cellphone-addict mayor didn’t bother to keep the lines of communication open with the TCHC Chair like Miller apparently did.

Ultimately, though, I think Mitchell and the board played this badly. They seemed to realize too late that resigning was the only move that made sense given the way the story was being played in the media. The couple of days where they dragged their feet have likely done a lot to advance the public appetite for TCHC privatization.  That’s not a good thing.

The question I’m asking now: what happens after you fire everyone? It’s not going to magically fix things. Those that sat on the TCHC Board and the managers within the corporation were not simply evil people, contaminating all that’s good and pure. Removing them and starting the process over again isn’t guaranteed to do anything but cost the city and TCHC a lot of money.

And how far do you take it? People from both the left and the right have been calling for audits on every city agency, board and committee. And here’s the thing: I have no doubt every single one of those agencies, boards and committees has, to varying degrees, examples of waste, abuse and mismanagement. Whether it be an incorrectly expensed meal, an ill-advised ‘business trip’ or ‘retreat’, or a botched procurement contract. They’re there. We’d find them.

And that sucks.

But I think about the possibility that the city could end up in a giant circle of audits, investigations and firings for the next three years and it concerns me. How far do you push it? This isn’t city building — it’s a quixotic quest to save money that’s already been lost. To create some sort of ultra-perfect bureaucracy that can’t ever exist.

Real positive change goes beyond audits and resignation letters. It requires a permanent cultural shift.

Mar 11

Doug Holyday & Bill Blair suggest police are the answer to homelessness

Joe Warmington in today’s edition of Pizzaville Presents The Toronto Sun:

“It is true we have spent all of these resources and the homeless are still there,” Holyday said. “I met with Police Chief Bill Blair last week and asked him what could we do and he said we need tougher laws to deal with them.”

But [Toronto Shelter, Support & Housing spokesperson Patricia] Anderson, who says there are incalculable savings in emergency room costs and the like, said Streets to Homes has helped 3,000 people to move from outside into homes and that there has been a “51% reduction in outdoor homelessness since 2006.”

Are we sure?

via Streets to Homes program needs citys scrutiny | Joe Warmington | Columnists | News | Toronto Sun.

First of all: crappy article. The subtle narrative throughout seems to be that, despite some initial issues, the city’s Streets to Homes program has improved a lot and been successful in helping members of the city’s homeless population find permanent housing. Statistics back this up, and aren’t rendered irrelevant because the writer asks “Are we sure?”

Are there inefficiencies and improvements that could be made? Almost definitely. But instead we get stuff like this:

In fact, while it may have found a way to bring some people in from the street, it appears to anybody living downtown that every street corner is still filled with just as many vagrants as ever.

“They will tell you it’s creating improvement but I see just as many homeless as I did 10 years ago when I got into politics,” said Mayor Rob Ford.

Screw statistics. We have a gut feeling that the homeless problem is as bad as ever!

Also: apparently five years is more than enough time to completely eliminate homelessness and the fact that this program hasn’t means it’s a total failure.

Back to Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday’s statement: could we see this administration move to remove funding for support organizations like Street to Homes and instead give the police more funds and powers to ‘deal’ with the homeless population?