One of the root problems with social housing in Toronto, and across the country, is the entrenched hostility to local government. Canada is still run like a colony of an empire. Local government must be kept on the tightest possible leash.
So, when government was finally convinced to put money into social housing, to let the cities run it was intolerable. It absolutely had to be run from Ottawa and the provincial capitals. In Ontario we ended up with a network of huge, ugly 'housing' tracts with all the social problems that go with such housing forms.
This was called "Ontario housing". The ugliest thing about it was that it was organised as an extension of the welfare system. It was run by 'welfare housing' bureaucrats on the theory that it should be as unpleasant to live in as possible, to encourage people to get out as soon as possible.
Any idea of the tenants having any organisation among themselves, any voice in running their communities, was anathema. They were on 'welfare'; they were supposed to be humbly grateful for whatever they were given. Any 'mouthpieces' were viciously hounded out of their homes.
Toronto gets a chance
Finally, it was accepted that new approaches to keeping people housed were needed, and local governments might be able to find more innovative forms. The old city of Toronto built its own housing system called 'Cityhomes'.
The old metro level of government got into the act, but focussed on buildings for 'seniors' and the disabled. With some exceptions, they were the best places housing to live in. The money for housing still came from the federal government.
These two new entities, and many smaller ones that were gradually absorbed into them, still had the problem of morally superior attitudes towards the residents. In addition to the "welfare housing" attitude, the even more obnoxious "social engineering" faction developed in metro housing.
The mismanagement and abuses led to poisonous conditions in many social housing buildings, which affected surrounding neighbourhoods, which lead to difficulty getting new social housing build against community opposition. Something had to be done, so the province mandated that tenants be given a voice in governing their buildings.
Social housing apparatchiks of the 'welfare' and 'social engineering' factions despised this, and found ways to contain it. Usually, managers would promote stooges as 'tenant representatives.' These stooges acquired skill at controlling their neighbours for their managers, but also at profiting from their positions.
In the old Metro housing, social workers turned building tenant's committees into social clubs. This was effective 'social engineering' for awhile, when metro housing had plenty of money and was landlord mainly to elderly and disabled people. It worked poorly when metro took control of older 'singles' buildings full of drug users and people with mental problems.
Since the nineteen eighties governments have been on a sustained assault against the social infrastructure built up in the preceding decades. This first effected housing when the 'mentally ill' and 'addicted' were simply dumped into the streets. Read at http://www.qaz.ca/racoon/7-05.html about this.
The cover for this barbarous act was that the 'mentally ill' and addicted would be liberated from inhumane institutions and treated 'in the community'. There was never any intention of providing 'the community' with resources to properly house and service these people.
As protests against this rose, the next idea was to get them into social housing. Again, there were no resources with which the communities within these buildings could cope with addicted and deranged people. Elderly people in wheelchairs were next door to addicted people habituated to life on the streets and in jail.
When social housing tenants tried to assert their rights as tenants to safety and security, they were branded as 'intolerant' and all the coercive means available to housing bureaucrats brought against them.
Amalgamation and downloading
The federal Liberal government abruptly stopped funding social housing in 1993. The Ontario New Democrat government of the time picked up the slack, but did something which laid the groundwork for the present maintenance crisis in Toronto social housing; they grabbed the reserve funds of all Ontario Housing buildings.
Then came the Harris government. When the city was amalgamated, Cityhomes and Metro housing were forced to amalgamate. For Ontario housing, Harris reversed laws mandating a tenant council and suppressed tenant's efforts to form their own.
However, in Toronto the housing department and some politicians decided that a tenant representation system was an idea worth defending. They were able to get the city to mandate it.
Cityhome had a much better tenant representation system than metro, and treated its tenants with more respect. But the Cityhome managers were swept aside and the 'social engineers' of metro housing prevailed.
This was a disaster; these people are incompetent to run housing. They think a social work degree is a qualification for managing buildings housing hundreds of people and costing millions of dollars.
It took longer for the province to succeed in 'down jamming' Ontario housing to the city, because the federal government was entangled in it. But eventually the city was forced to accept 'three or four billion' in depreciating assets with a promise, which never materialised, to make good the estimated two hundred million dollar maintenance back log.
This necessitated another merging of two housing bureaucracies. Again the social engineers of the old metro housing prevailed, and Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) was born. They are very good at political games, at stiffling tenant whistle blowing, and at telling a 'beautiful story'. They are incapable of managing housing and are famously vindictive toward anyone who shows up their basic incompetence.
The beautiful story is now coming apart. Toronto Community Housing can no longer conceal its inability to make good the maintenance backlog. It seems to have added further to it, but no one knows how large it really is.
Everyone in Toronto Housing knows about the corruption in allocation of housing units. Lately it has started to ooze through the housing apparatchik's perception management and into the news.
A financial crisis is climaxing in the city, leading to demands to 'upload' housing back to the province. This would be a fresh calamity for the residents of TCHC.
What needs to be uploaded, into outer space, is provincial authority over social housing. The money and the power to handle its citizen's own housing needs must be downloaded to the city. But the power to manage their own housing must be downloaded to the residents of TCHC.
Another article or two are needed about the development of the present tenant participation system in TCHC and its essential phoniness. And, of examples of real tenant management of social housing from other countries.