August 8, 2007
Among the sorrows of being part of a powerless group in Toronto are the numerous opportunists who aspire to make a lot of money representing your interests to those who are suppressing your particular subset of humanity.
Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) is the main social housing arm of the city of Toronto. It is a profoundly dysfunctional organisation and a blight on the lives of most of it's tenants.
However, these tenants do not have to endure self appointed advocates selling out their interests. TCHC has found its own solution to the need for straw people to 'dialogue' with. It set them up 'in house' and called it the 'tenant representation' system, or sometimes the 'tenant participation' system.
This does not stop various groups from trying, and we will look at them in turn.
Lately the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) has been 'organising' TCHC tenants. They have been doing some good by helping the tenants to take their cases to the 'Landlord and Tenant' tribunal. This is more useful than just occupying the tribunal's offices for an afternoon.
Previously, the tribunal was called an 'eviction factory', and TCHC was widely known to use it as a means to intimidate its tenants. Now, TCHC has been complaining that three quarters of the 'adjudicators' are 'on OCAP's side.'
As well, a lawyer, Sarah Shartel, has been working with OCAP to prosecute a 'class action' law suit against the provincial government for three hundred million dollars. This is to make good the maintenance shortfall which TCHC has been burdened with since the 'download' of housing onto the municipal Toronto tax base during the Mike Harris age.
The management of TCHC should not be unhappy with this. They have told some of their critics that they should be helping with this law suit instead of bothering them. Yet they have been uninterested in meeting with representatives of OCAP.
Rally at TCHC HQ
Last August first, OCAP held a rally outside the TCHC offices, with the intent to go inside and confront the board of directors meeting inside. Anyone who follows the TCHC board knows that they start meetings at 9:30 AM and the 'in camera' part starts about 10 AM. The meetings are usually over before 11 am, when the usual OCAP crowd started assembling.
Numbers of Toronto police and TCHC security people invited themselves to the event. No OCAP member was allowed inside. A low level TCHC functionary promised to convey to the board OCAP's request for an audience. A little later the board had left the building.
John Clarke, the supreme leader of OCAP, was pulled aside by the cops and told to get himself and his crew off TCHC property or be arrested. Such an arrest would be of dubious legality; there is an established right in Canadian law to demand to be heard by public or quasi-public officials. This never concerns the authorities because there are no consequences for them in denying this right.
Every time OCAP stages one of these futile face-offs with the police, fails to contest police actions by legal means, and does not have a coherent request to present, the civil rights of all, including TCHC tenants, are diminished a little more.
The Federation of Metro Tenants Associations (FMTA) is one of the more obnoxious 'poverty pimp' groups in Toronto.
They consider anything to do with tenants in toronto to be their 'turf', and will attack anyone they see intruding. Acquiring the right to 'organise' Toronto Housing tenants has been a long standing goal of theirs.
Their bright idea is that a TCHC tenant's association should be formed under their control, to be funded by a dues check off of a dollar a month per door. In Ottawa, their cousin organisation, the Ottawa Carlton Tenants, wanted dues from every rental unit in Ottawa, public or private.
This backfired, causing the Ottawa city council to withdraw their funding. This caused the head of the Ottawa group to fold it up, move to Toronto and take a job as manager at FMTA. So far, Toronto city council has not had the wisdom to do what the Ottawa council did.
It is understandable that FMTA is not pleased with the TCHC tenant participation system, or with OCAP's initiatives. FMTA tries to 'make friends' with the senior tenant representatives of TCHC, especially those who sit on the TCHC board. These are supposed to speak in favour of FMTA's plans, and are harassed when they do not.
The much feared OCAP is now being threatened by FMTA for not involving them in the law suit with the province. FMTA clearly does not fear OCAP. It has long had its stooges within OCAP, who for a time had OCAP persuaded to refer any tenant problems to FMTA.
of this and THAT, and ACORN too.
The Association of Community Organisations for Reform Now (ACORN) is an American based group in existence since 1970. It is a money maker for those who control it, but much more sophisticated than FMTA. It relies on member donations and sometimes community funding, not on government grants.
It has recently moved into Canada. It has become involved with 'organising tenants' and sparks have flown between it and FMTA. Publicly, they have 'agreed' to work together, but they cannot be happy with each other.
One old group that has long tried to position itself as 'representatives' of TCHC tenants, Toronto Housing Association of Tenants ( THAT), seems to have gone dormant lately. Many of its people have gone over to FMTA or ACORN.
The origins of THAT are with a group of tenants in the old 'Cityhomes' housing, later merged with TCHC. Sandy Nimmo and Larry Heitner got control of it and allied themselves with FMTA. TCHC disrupted their original group when it formed its first tenant representation system.
So, Larry and Sandy worked from within and took over the representation system, making themselves and their cronies the 'executive committee'. Later they set up THAT.
Sandy bilked TCHC out of a lot of money and moved to New Zealand. Heitner took over THAT. TCHC responded by reorganising the tenant representation/participation system so that the tenants of each area had no communication with tenants in other areas; a brilliant stroke.
A core of people angry about TCHC clung to Heitner despite his obvious dishonesty. Finally FMTA was able to confront him with enough evidence of his 'financial manipulations' to cause him to move to Montreal.
The actual tenants of TCHC already have the usual limitations of time, money, education, and security from harassment, of lower classed people. It is hard to see how they can also cope with the bullying from their landlord and from the well resourced groups wanting to be paid to 'represent' them.
All these entities can and will crash the doors down if tenants start trying to organise to do anything on their own initiative.
Yet the issues before TCHC tenants are grievous. Handing $300 million in provincial money to TCHC will solve nothing. Flowing new federal housing money to TCHC will solve nothing. TCHC is incapable of building and maintaining liveable housing, or of respecting the rights of its tenants.
In subsequent articles we will look at what the real issues are for Toronto social housing tenants and what might to be done about them.