City wants to give $150,000 for a petition

Budget Advisory Committee Chair,
City Hall,
100 Queen Street West,
Toronto, Ontario M5H 2N2

March 19, 2001

Re: March 20 agenda item 1.6(a) Request For Rent Freeze, and other items

Dear Councillor David Shiner:

The following recommendation was made:

"(August 30, 2000) from the City Clerk advising that the Tenant Defence Sub-Committee on August 28, 2000, recommended to the Community Services Committee that City Council demand that the Government of Ontario legislate a freeze on all rents for tenants in the City of Toronto - no above-guideline increase, no increase to maximum rent, until such time as the current Tenant Protection Act is drastically amended or replaced with legislation that levels the playing field between landlords and tenants."

It is obvious to everybody that our present provincial government would never consider such a request never mind carry it out, but as a symbolic gesture to highlight the suffering tenants are experiencing due to the Tenant Protection Act, I believed this was a laudable motion.

To allocate a budget of $150,000 for a campaign to "add pressure to encourage the Provincial Government to legislate a rent freeze" is absurd at best, and when the City is facing a $305 million budget shortfall this campaign could only be described at obscene.

When it is clear that the provincial government would never be swayed by such a city-funded "campaign", the only reasons for spending this money would be as political patronage to anybody outside of the City contracted to assist or run the campaign and as media grandstanding by the members of the Tenant Defence Sub-Committee to get their names into the news over an extended period of time.

$150,000, if allocated to help tenants, should not be wasted in this way for the self-promotion by the members of this Sub-Committee, but could be better spent by giving it to tenants who are not in permanent housing to provide last month's rent deposits for them. Right now the city is spending an average of about $40 per bed per night for hostels, and some $70 per motel room per family per night. By providing the last month's rent deposit for these tenants to get back into permanent housing, not only would there be a real and immediate benefit for these families and individuals, but it would reduce the need for more of these expensive but only temporary solutions; it would ultimately save the city money.

On another tenant item, I read in Now's March 15 edition that the city, presumably the Tenant Defence Sub-Committee of the city, is putting out expensive advertising posters in bus shelters throughout Toronto.

It seems the people who were to be listed in it, a Legal Aid Ontario clinic, the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA), were not pleased with the city censoring the pictures in the advertisements and so are going to do their original versions at their own expense.

Of course anything that helps prevent evictions should be done, but what is the City of Toronto doing? Even though CERA has announced it is going to do the campaign on its own, the city is taking the money they allocated to this project and going ahead with it but, putting the Federation of Metro Tenants' Association name and telephone number on it. There is no mention in the attached article if this change was approved by city council which I presume it was not. But why spend the money if CERA is going to be doing so anyways?

Then there is the question about why the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations (FMTA) was chosen and by whom.

As the FMTA is not a Legal Aid Ontario clinic and does not have any full-time (nor part-time) lawyers on staff why would the City of Toronto have chosen them? If the callers being evicted are given bad advice by the FMTA, I believe these people might have the right to sue the city for recommending the FMTA through these advertisements. Why was this extremely bad choice that exposes the city to litigation ever made?

I believe the advertisements should have given the general number for Legal Aid Ontario and possibly listed their 20 community legal clinics throughout Toronto. This course of action, of having city-funded bus shelter posters sending people to provincial clinics, would also be quite ironic after the province bought bus shelter advertisements telling homeless people to call the city's Homeless Hotline in Toronto.

Furthermore, I do not understand why the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation was chosen by the city in the first place. While they are a first-class clinic, as their name suggests their specialty is in fighting cases where tenants are being discriminated against due to race, gender, disability, or source of income. Would it not have been better to send people to their communities' local Legal Aid Ontario clinic?

As a member of the Housing Work Group of the Toronto Mayor's Committee on Aging, a group that existed in the old City of Toronto until the amalgamation at the end of 1997, let me inform you of our experiences with the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations.

In late 1996, we held a couple of forums for seniors on the topic of tenant issues, where we invited the FMTA to provide a speaker. They provided their Coordinator/Executive Director who rather than providing advice to the audience instead preferred to solicit memberships. The second meeting which was at the Keele Community Centre was quite memorable as it included my then Metro Councillor (who is now my City Councillor), who was repeatedly attacked by the FMTA for not increasing their Metro Toronto grant of $14,000 a year. No mention was made of what tenants' rights were or how seniors could protect themselves from unscrupulous landlords.

{Typists note: that councillor would be now mayor, David Miller}

The Housing Work Group of the Toronto Mayor's Committee on Aging was so appalled by the actions of the FMTA at these meetings that we did not invite them to the next two in early 1997.

That next meeting was hijacked from the audience by a Mr. Tim Welch who did nothing but discuss the work of the FMTA and how they represented all tenants. He falsely informed a reporter from the local newspaper, the Annex Gleaner, that he and the FMTA organized the forum. I let the reporter know the FMTA and Welch had nothing to do with the forum, it had been organized by the Mayor's Committee, and provided the reporter with the flier that proved so.

The final forum on April 25, 1997 at the Chester Village Auditorium was unforgettable to say the least. Mr. Howard Tessler, the then Executive Director of the FMTA came uninvited and continuously disrupted the meeting. He shouted down speakers and in addition to the advertisement for the FMTA hotline he apparently pre-arranged with one of the speakers he shouted out additional advertisements for the FMTA over the voices of audience members who were trying to ask questions. This was done because he knew this forum was supposed to be broadcast on Rogers Cable TV community channel. Mr. Tessler was so loud that when Rogers adjusted the volume down to account for him, the other speakers could no longer be heard on the video tape and so it was never broadcast. I suspect that if any city councillors were to contact Rogers, the video may still be in their archives so they can see the behaviour of that organization.

At each of these forums I always met at least a couple of tenants who would complain about the FMTA not returning messages left on their hotline that always seemed to be on voice mail, about them not wanting to help tenants organize their buildings but being more interesting in telling the tenants to solicit memberships throughout their buildings for the FMTA first, and that when they did get assistance from this group that they were in turn pressured to lobby governments for increased funding. This is what the FMTA seems to be best at, lobbying for money for themselves.

To get back to the subject of city funding, I would like to ask, exactly what is the purpose of the Tenant Defence Sub-Committee? Is it to provide programs that directly help tenants or is it merely programs like the proposed $150,000 Rent Freeze Campaign to get publicity for the members of that sub-committee under the guise of helping tenants?

I believe this one proposal proves the need for an independent audit of this sub-committee and its former incarnations (the Committee to Restore Rent Controls as well as the Committee to Save Rent Controls) to see if its expenditures actually helped tenants, and not just its self-serving members. How many other committees are there like this one, and have they also promoted irresponsible proposals for their own political ends?


Robert Levitt

cc: Mayor Mel Lastman,
City Clerk's office for distribution to the Budget Advisory
Committee and to all city councillors,
H. W. O. Doyle, City Solicitor

Typists Notes: During this committee, Dan McIntyre of the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations, shouted his opposition to this letter and Mr. Levitt's idea of giving the money directly to the tenants who need the help. The FMTA lobbied against the letter and for the $150,000 to be given to their agency for the petition. Do they only care about their own funding and not about tenants? Their future positions lobbying for a garbage tax against tenants in 2005 and now apartment licenses both of which gets passed on to tenants prove that they always support the city against tenants, but then over 95% of their operating funds, almost $1/2 MILLION a year come from the City of Toronto.

Go back to the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations Story