Ford’s City Hall Moves to Attack Social Housing

By M. Lau & S. da Silva

On March 10, 2011 Toronto Mayor Rob Ford launched his attack on social housing in Toronto, adding to the list of other attacks that Ford’s City Hall is making on working people.  After scandalizing the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) when details were released about misspending by TCHC bureaucrats, City Hall moved to dismantle the TCHC Board of Directors.  The TCHC board was replaced with one man: ex-councilor Case Ootes, who will act as the interim managing director and the lone board member of the Corporation.

With no oversight, Ootes will be able to unilaterally make drastic changes to TCHC over the next three months. Ford has stated, “This is the first step taken to restore confidence back in Toronto Community Housing and tenants are going to be happy.”

Sure, revelations about the TCHC bureaucrats spending thousands of dollars on candies and retreats should outrage people.  But let’s not confuse Ford’s rhetoric about fighting the “gravy train” for his attacks on working people and the poor. The former is a not-so-subtle justification for the latter.

The real scandal in TCHC is the deplorable living conditions that tenants are being forced to endure.There is anywhere from $300 to $600 million in outstanding repairs due in Toronto’s social housing stock, with some 2,000+ units sitting vacant because of being in such a state of disrepair.  The crisis of chronic underfunding is the result of downloading the responsibility for housing to municipalities with the passage of the Social Reform Housing Act in December 2000.This crisis is the result of all three levels of government, and the people have to fight to prevent privatization from becoming the solution to this manufactured crisis of neoliberalism.

The privatization of social housing would be devastating for the vast majority of people in Toronto—TCHC tenants and market-rate tenants alike. When BASICS asked one tenant what they thought the effects of privatization would be, she stated, “The city is going to go broke. You’ve got disabilities of all kinds, our hospital bills are going to up, our OHIP is going to go up, and places for [tenants] to live is not going to be suitable […] So why are you going to go out and privatize when you know the bill is going to come back next year triple the size?”  Another tenant predicted, “There is potential for a lot more homeless people and for crime rates to go up. We’re now spending money on prisons at a level that has never been done before, yet they are creating the social conditions that will drive the crime rates up.”

The sale of public housing would direct a large portion of the incomes of working people right into the pockets of big developers and private landlords who stand to gain from privatization.  Private landlords, as capitalists, will obviously seek to make their profits from our monthly rents.

Also, because Toronto’s private rental market is shrinking, the privatization of social housing will certainly drive up rent in Toronto.  From 2009-2010, the number of available rental units in Toronto dropped by one-third from almost 8000 to about 5500.

In Canada, with the shift towards more precarious employment (part-time, temporary, no-benefits, low-pay jobs), people will be unable to afford housing in Toronto, making the lives of most of us more and more desperate.  In Toronto, the waiting list for affordable housing already stands at a record of 76,549 people.  This number will continue to skyrocket with privatization.

In combination with Ford’s plans to drastically cut beds at homeless shelters, privatization will deal a second blow to the most vulnerable sections of the working poor, the aged, and people with special needs.  As one tenant remarked when talking with BASICS, “I think that we are going to have a lot of less [rent-geared to income] units at a time when we have a lot more people who are coming into need because of age. I think that’s going to spell disaster.”

Although Ford’s brother, Doug Ford, has stated that Ootes is “not being brought in to sell off public housing,” the assurances are not re-assuring. On April 6, Case Ootes announced the sale of 22 TCHC-owned houses, commonly referred to as “scattered units”.  Some have pointed out the Social Housing Reform Act 2000 will not allow for the privatizations that Ford wants. However, the Ontario provincial government has already introduced a bill at Queen’s Park that would give Ford the green light to a mass sell-off (see article on Bill 140, next page).  The pro-developer councilors at City Hall are salivating like wolves.

Both Councilors Doug Ford and Michael Thompson—who voted to dismantle the TCHC Board—sit on the Board of Directors of Build Toronto—a real estate development corporation responsible for developing and selling off Toronto’s surplus lands and property assets. The board of Build Toronto is packed with those who have a vested interest in developers and those financially connected to real estate organizations. As one tenant put it, “It’s just about profits for them again. It is not about tenants and their wellbeing. At the end of the day, in that sense, tax payers are not getting value for their dollar like we keep hearing.”

The privatization of TCHC must be seen as part of the decades-long“neoliberal” assault against the working class by the Canadian state and the rich to dismantle the welfare state—the “social pact”made between labour and capital in the aftermath of the Second World War.  The rich, served by the Canadian state, have made it clear that the era of “welfare” capitalism is long gone.  But working people have yet to re-organize themselves, even after 30 years of neoliberal assaults.  TCHC residents need an unprecedented upsurge in mobilization and organization if we’re going to beat back the privatization offensive, let alone win any new concessions for improving and expanding social housing.  Without a struggle, another defeat is certain.  But with a struggle, we stand so much more to gain than the defense of the status quo.

Let’s build an independent tenants organization to defend and advance the interests of TCHC residents and working people!

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