Go back to the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations Story

Time for City to move on FMTA

Our Toronto Free Press, January 1999


1999 is the perfect year for the City of Toronto to take responsibility for megacity's major tenant population by finally breaking the stranglehold of the highly political Federation of Metro Tenants' Association (FMTA).

While the memberships of other tenants' groups are on the increase, FMTA, which puts a great deal of energy on lobbying, has seen a dramatic decline in members.

FMTA has developed a soft belly from the soft life it has lived over the past decade when it spent much of its time lobbying at the expense of megacity's 1.25-million tenant population. In the face of the millennium, the federation seems to have outgrown the very target group from which it took its original mandate.

In providing FMTA uninterrupted access to easy money, city councillors like Jack Layton unwittedly may have killed the fatted calf. FMTA, which maintains a lock on city funding dating back for at least the last 10 years, enjoys an exclusive and even elitist "purchase of service" contract -- automatically renewed each January -- with no tender put out to competing groups, many of whom are sincere in their dedication to Toronto renters.

The bottom line on FMTA, Mr. Lastman, is that it's still getting a $105,000 handout even though it represents only 0.3%-0.4% of all tenants.

Despite the hype of councillors like Layton, Olivia Chow and Pam McConnell who portray the group as the voice for Toronto tenants, its November 14 annual meeting drew a crowd of only 50.

At least three city officials, paid from the public purse, handle the FMTA account. Rob Cressman, acting director in the shelter support division says the group received $97,510 in two separate payments, purportedly to run a 40-hour-a-week hotline service. The city gave FMTA lobbyists an extra $7,871 to dole out eviction advice between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Although we've been diligent in an ongoing search, Our Toronto has never been able to find a tenant actually helped by the FMTA hotline. Indeed, reaching only voice mail after repeated, and often frantic attempts, has been the norm.

Thanks to city politicians like former Coun. Kay Gardner, who drew heavily on Toronto north end tenants for votes, the purchase of service contract was never tendered when it was first set up several years ago. Nor could anyone in the city's shelter support division quite say what portion of the FMTA budget actually goes to salaries.

Incredibly, David DeLuca, an information officer in charge of the $97,510 deal, admits the FMTA doesn't have to submit back-up receipts. But the city does a "performance evaluation" based on raw quarterly statistics and staff who call the hotline anonymously "least once a year".

In the end accountability rests with the FMTA, who tell the city how many calls they receive and according to DeLuca, "we have no reason to dispute that."

In fairness, rumors are rife that the FMTA is Layton's baby, and in times of city job cutbacks, woe betide any nosy parker city bureaucratic types asking too many pointed questions.

Over the past year, members of other tenants' groups have complained to Our Toronto about FMTA infighting. They claim that federation board members are actual home owners not tenants, and that Executive Director Howard Tessler turns the air blue with profane language at federation meetings. Tessler, who joined the federation two years ago after coming from Montreal, told the Toronto Sun's Sue-Ann Levy that the group could be more aggressive about memberships. At last count, the group claimed a membership of 4,000 to 5,000 (in dispute with at least one other former federation member) and could only muster about $18,000 to $25,000 in dues the past year. {Typist's note: for the year ending March 31, 2001, they recieved $4,618 in membership dues, which even at the lowest rate still translates to under 924 members.}

Potential abuses in city funding should not be tolerated. Layton should treat the city purse as though it's the money he and wife Chow count on for their own holiday getaways.

Mayor Mel Lastman should appoint one of the three city bureaucrats now handling the FMTA account to study legitimate tenants' groups in a search to find a replacement for FMTA.

Few City of Toronto missions could be as worthwhile, because as one former FMTA insider puts it: "Nobody really knows what's going on there" ... as long as FMTA has a stranglehold on the tenant movement, Toronto tenants will suffer."

Go back to the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations Story