Handout Time!


Toronto Free Press, Cover Story, February, 2002

by Judi McLeod


City councillors will reveal in April how much money will be awarded from the public purse to a bevy of local groups. It's annual community service grant time, and professional grant-getters are lining up with hands outstretched. The Community Services Grants Appeals Sub-Committee has released its list of ineligible applicants to the 2002 Community Services Grants Programs. The media, in hot pursuit of the eligible applicant list, must wait to have their field day with city grants that sometimes stagger common sense.

One of the grants hotly contested this year is the continuation of the $300,000 sought by the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations (FMTA) for its controversial Tenant Defence Fund.

Detractors claim that the FMTA is being funded by certain city councillors to the total exclusion of all other tenant advocate groups and that the Federation long ago abandoned tenant advocacy to become a major political lobby group.

They are heartened that the city's Chief Executive Officer Shirley Hoy has recommended reducing city funding to the federation from the $300,000 it received for the past two years to $150,000. (They say only that portion of the fund that goes to tenant building associations and not the "administration" half deserves to be continued.)

Councillor Michael Walker, one of three city politicians who holds a seat on the Community Services Grants Appeals Sub-Committee, wants to hike the fund.

In the prelude to the grant awards process, many agency representatives gave deputations supporting the Tenant Defence Fund. But some councillors claim most of the representatives deputing did not even know what the Tenant Defence Fund is mandated for and does, mistakenly thinking it is about preventing tenant evictions. In reality, the Fund is about securing marginal reductions in rent increases. Resentment was the result when no one at the committee level thought to question where these group representatives got their information, and why they were strongly supporting something about which they knew nothing.

In the opposing camp to the Fund is Paul York of the Greater Toronto Tenants Association.

Councillor Walker, who draws from the significant tenant population in his ward at municipal election time, is also asking for another increase in the Tenant Hotline funding, which leapt up to $175,000 last year from $97,000 the year before.

With support from councillors like Michael Walker and Jack Layton, the FMTA will have received about $325,000 from the city, when in 1996, it only received $30,000.

Detractors of FMTA are demanding answers in angry letters to the mayor's office. They want to know where all of this money is going and want proof of whether city tenants really benefit from the funding.

They want Hoy to probe the Tenant Defence Fund's reimbursements to tenants' associations for the hiring of lawyers and paralegals recommended by the FMTA. Has this money ever been shown to actually go back to the individual tenants who put up the money or does it end up in other people's pockets?

They want to know who are the lawyers and paralegals who get paid. Is it the same four or five people recommending them and is there an arm's length relationship or paybacks for referrals.

Some local residents are claiming to be stonewalled when they try to give the mayor and councillors the heads up that the federation is using its city-funded website to attack the city and those councillors who question their city funding, as it did in a 2000 pre-election letter also posted on their web site.

"Each time I try to tell you about abuses of city funding (your staff) don't respond except to forward this on to Karen Cooper in the city's housing department and all she does is try to intimidate me into retracting my complaints about the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations instead of doing her responsibility to the public and investigating them," Toronto resident Susan Forest recently wrote in a letter to Mayor Mel Lastman.

"You are giving the Federation over $300,000 a year and they are putting a lot of their efforts into lobbying for even more money and into partisan politics instead of what Karen Cooper and the city are claiming the money is for. If you and your office want me to shut up about how the Federation is attacking you--then you must be a fool."

At press time, the FMTA, using its city-funded website, was asking members of the public at large to swamp the city's Access and Equity Office with nominations for Barbara Hurd for the city's Constance E. Hamilton Award. There was no mention to site visitors that Hurd has been the FMTA chair for 6 1/2 of the the past 10 years and a homeowner though under the FMTA's own constitution that excludes her from being a board member or the Chair.


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