Our Toronto Free Press, July 5 - July 19 1999

By: Judi McLeod, Editor

With the City of Toronto's more than one million renters often left to their own devices in fights against landlords, the ripoff of the public purse by a major tenant group has been boosted. The Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations (FMTA) is favoured to the total exclusion of all other tenant advocacy groups by the I-councillor Campaign To Restore Rent Control subcommittee, which doles out city grants. The subcommittee is dominated by councillors who have the largest tenant populations in their wards.

The newly-formed subcommittee replaces the Subcommittee To Save Rent Control. In 1997, the Subcommittee To Save Rent Control ponied up $135,610 for the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations (FMTA). The money was provided via the City of Toronto's Tenant Advocacy Fund. Final approval came through a Purchase of Service contract, which does not require a council vote.

Not only are city councillors doling out money to one tenant advocate group to the exclusion of all others, there are disquieting signs that the money given to the favoured group may not be going to what it was originally contracted to do. FMTA, which represents only 0.3%-0.4% of Toronto renters, has had a 10-year lock on city funding, and its "purchase of service" contract is automatically renewed each year -- with no tender ever put out to competing groups.

In round two, the City of Toronto approved an estimated $27,000 minimum to be paid to Tim Welch and Associates for provision of a tenant property tax hotline.

A call to the line finds a recorded message, telling you to call back. You can't even leave a message, and about all the information given on the recorded message is to wait for your notice coming in the mail, or to call the FMTA. Welch works as a consultant to the Federation for about $40,000 a year and was recommended to the City by the Federation -- even though he works for the landlord group, the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association.

The notices from the City that list this hotline, list it in 12 different languages, though the hotline can not service any language other than English.

Even in the face of complaints from other tenant advocacy groups, and negative stories in the print media, the FMTA seems to have more clout than ever with the 20-month-old megacity council.

Council's Campaign to Restore Rent Control was formed in late April to raise awareness of the Mike Harris Government's rent-control policy. The subcommittee was given a budget of $100,000 to send out pamphlets and hold a series of all-candidate's debates about rent control during the recent provincial election campaign.

The pamphlets, which cost $18,000, were to be mailed to half a million tenants.

..."Armed with bags of mail, a coalition of Toronto city councillors will stuff into the mail, the first of 150,000 election brochures going to tenants across the city" said Coun. Jack Layton in a May 23 press release.

A Diligent Search

After a diligent search, Toronto Free Press has been unable to come up with a single tenant who received the mailed-out brochure.

Who handled the distribution? Who was responsible for the direct mailing to city tenants?

On May 31, the subcommittee hosted an all-party debate on rent control, with many of the councillors on the committee making up fliers to advertise the meeting.

Out of more than one million tenants in Metro Toronto, only 50 people were in the audience -- and almost half of them were plants from the three parties or the Federation.

The Federation seems to be octupus like in its ability to scoop up public funding in any and all aspects of city housing.

On May 3, its members were in attendance for the Mayor's Homelessness Action Task Force final report.

Tenant activist Ann Fitzpatrick, listed as representing the Children's Aid Society of Toronto, told task force members that the Society recommended giving more money to the Federation for eviction prevention by the City of Toronto. (Society administration did not return repeated calls from Toronto Free Press probing confirmation that Fitzpatrick had permission to make that claim on behalf of the Society.)

On May 22, the City of Toronto, Community and Neighbourhood Service Committee met to review its Evictions Prevention Strategy.

As part of the committee's review, a report by the City's Housing Department was reviewed. The same department oversees the Eviction Prevention program and is, therefore, in a conflict of interest.

"Before considering any future funding for the FMTA or their sister groups (i.e. organizations created by the very same people), such as HomeFront Ontario, the Harris-Homeless Campaign, or the Public Housing Fightback Campaign, I believe you must protect the taxpayers of this city and do an organizational review of these groups first" Robert De Bartolo wrote Mayor Mel Lastman in a recent letter. "Such an organizational review must include a study of the effectiveness of the work the FMTA do, using factual information (e.g. review of questionnaires of each call handled on their hotlines, etc.), and not be based upon undocumented claims by the groups themselves. All responsible organizations keep records of each and every contact who calls into them for assistance. Even if the calls are confidential, records must be kept of names and phone numbers for necessary follow ups, and these could be reviewed by a bonded third party. The organizational review must also include a financial audit to ensure that all funding previously received was actually used for the purposes for which it was provided--to do otherwise is to ignore your fiduciary responsibilities to the taxpayers of Toronto."
"I also implore you to investigate the newly created City of Toronto Subcommittee to Restore Rent Control, to see if it will actually accomplish anything, or if it is just a cash cow for the FMTA, and a photo opportunity for that committee's members. As the listed objectives are to `work in conjunction with tenant groups', have any tenant groups other than those associated with the FMTA ever been consulted? If not, why not?"

According to Ward-by-Ward Profiles, collected in the Toronto Municipal Affairs Binder 1998, many of the councillors on the Subcommittee to Save Rent Control have the highest percentage of rented units in their wards.

Councillors Olivia Chow, Jack Layton, Chris Korwin Kuczynski and Committee Chair Mike Walker lead the list.

Go back to the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations Story