Healthy, safe and sustainable communities
Consider this problem: You are a social housing landlord. You are responsible for providing safe, affordable housing to tenants in your buildings. In exchange, your tenants agree to pay their rent, maintain their units, and not to interfere with other tenants' reasonable enjoyment of their units. You want residents to thrive and feel a sense of belonging to their community.
This sounds straightforward.
Many of the tenants you serve need additional support to stay housed or feel safe in their community. You don’t have the funding and expertise to help them, but many people expect you to. What do you do?
By the numbers:
- Over 26,000 of the tenants we serve are seniors (59 years+). That number is projected to grow to over 37,000 by 2020. Many live in buildings that are not equipped for their needs.
- 6,500 seniors living in our buildings are over 80 years
- 9% of Toronto Community Housing households report at least one member with a mental illness (about 9,000 tenants), many of them serious enough to make them eligible for supportive housing
- 29% of our households report at least one member with a physical disability
- About 1,150 tenants live with serious hoarding and excessive clutter issues
- 27% of our households are single-parent (female-led) families
- About 20% of our households are headed by newcomers to Canada
- The average annual income of a household living in Toronto Community Housing is approximately $16,155
- The challenge is growing: since 2006 more than 50 per cent of those entering Toronto Community Housing were households with special requirements. Applicants with special housing requirements housed are often victims of violence and disadvantaged individuals (homeless,separated family, youth).
Individuals living in Toronto Community Housing come from all walks of life. Most are successful tenants and good neighbours. However, many tenants, especially those in crisis, have difficulty meeting their obligations as a tenant because of a physical disability, mental illness, cognitive impairment or substance abuse. They need support to maintain their health and their housing. This support can take many forms: a supportive neighbour, a caring friend, a supportive housing worker, or a case manager, for example.
Although Toronto Community Housing provides housing for many vulnerable tenants, it is not equipped with the resources or expertise to provide intensive, one-on-one supports to keep them successfully housed. Instead, we can connect tenants to health, social and community services. But many community service agencies are stretched thin. In an environment of budget cuts and limited resources, what can Toronto Community Housing do to connect vulnerable tenants to the support they need?
What this means
These are complex issues that can affect individual people, buildings and communities.
- When residents avoid public spaces and communal activities out of fear for their safety, they can become isolated and the neighbourhood starts to feel even more insecure. Safety issues also make it more challenging for staff to build strong relationships with tenants and provide great customer service.
- Vulnerable tenants who aren't supported often have trouble paying their rent. Rent arrears mean less money available for repairs, tenant support, and customer service.
- Some tenants may become isolated, have trouble maintaining their unit or collect an excessive amount of belongings, leading to pest infestations like bed bugs and serious safety issues.
- Tenants in crisis can interfere with the reasonable, quiet enjoyment of the building by other tenants or cause damage and excessive wear-and-tear to the buildings.
- Buildings can experience evictions, high turnover or higher vacancy rates and anti-social behaviour.
These issues affect our ability to provide good housing for all 164,000 Toronto Community Housing tenants.
What we've done so far
Better collaboration and partnerships
- Toronto Community Housing is buildings closer working relationships with Community Care Access Centres and Local Health Integration Networks to better align their services to our buildings, especially for seniors
- We are a partner in the Health Access St. James Town project exploring new models of integrated, place-based health and social services
- Toronto Community Housing is partnering with Toronto Police Services at the local and city-wide level to develop local responses to safety issues in individual communities
- We created a video that clearly explains tenant rights and obligations under their lease. We have translated the video into multiple languages. This video will be shown to all new tenants before they sign their lease
- We also simplified rent calculation sheets and notices of rent geared-to-income (RGI) rent changes
Better tenancy management and internal processes
- Tenant Services Coordinators are spending more time in buildings, meeting tenants face-to-face to discuss issues and improve rent collection
- We updated our annual unit inspection process. Staff must document any conditions in the unit that indicate vulnerability and follow up to make sure that all issues are addressed and the tenant is connected to the services and support they need
- We have hired staff with expertise in mental health and pest management to support staff in solving complex cases and providing access to other resources
Improved community safety
- We completed a full safety assessment of all 400 Toronto Community Housing communities. This helped us to identify priority sites and redeploy our Community Safety staff where they are most needed
- Community Patrol Officers are now based on-site in communities that require more support. They are now more visible in the daily lives of tenants and better able to work with other staff to address problems before they escalate
- We have used a participatory budgeting process to help tenants decide on the community safety improvements most needed in their buildings and communities. Through participatory budgeting, tenants decide how to spend allocated budgets to meet the safety needs of their own communities
Key things to keep in mind
- Toronto Community Housing's Shareholder Direction from the City of Toronto mandates TCHC to "support and promote efforts aimed at providing TCHC tenants with healthy, safe and sustainable communities." Read our Shareholder Direction[PDF].
- The Ontario Human Rights Code protects tenants against discrimination on any grounds including disability.Learn more here.
- There is a range of housing options in Toronto,including supportive housing, alternative housing or transitional housing, offering support services on-site to help tenants live independently. For example, other housing providers house and support youth, seniors, people with substance abuse problems or women fleeing abusive situations (to learn more about the different kinds of housing, visit the City of Toronto's housing website). Demand exceeds supply for all of these options, so applicants are faced with long waiting lists.
- Studies show that housing-based responses to homelessness including social housing and supportive housing cost taxpayers substantially less than expensive emergency services like hospitals, ambulance and the justice system.
- Toronto Community Housing employs Community Patrol Officers, most of whom have special constable designation. Their authority is designated by Toronto Police Service. Special constables have powers of arrest on or in relation to Toronto Community Housing properties for very specific offences in both the Criminal Code of Canada and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (relative to possession of narcotics).
- In the private rental sector, buildings may have no security, part-time security, or 24/7 security. Providing 24/7 security in all Toronto Community Housing communities would cost, conservatively, about $50 million a year. That would take almost all of the $53.75 million currently dedicated to funding capital repairs in 2012.
Source: Cost Savings Analysis of Streets to Homes Program, January 2009 (additional figure for long-term care from the Ontario Long-Term Care Association).
What do you recommend?
- Given Toronto's changing demographic trends and the City's budget limitations, what strategies would you suggest for providing good housing to low and moderate income residents of Toronto?
- Who should deliver additional support to low-income tenants who need it, and how should that support be funded?
- Are housing-based responses to homelessness and health issues the right way to go? Should alternative solutions be explored, such as new funding solutions, new systems,or policy changes?
- What additional low or no-cost actions can be taken to reduce crime and increase residents' sense of security?
- Are there examples of community safety strategies from other jurisdictions that could be applied in Toronto? How would you apply them?
- Toronto Community Housing Mental Health Framework [PDF]
- Toronto Community Housing Eviction Prevention Policy
- Toronto Community Housing Policy on Evictions for Cause [PDF]
- Toronto Community Housing Unit Condition Follow-up Process
The Three Cities within Toronto: Income Polarization Among Toronto's
Neighbourhoods, 1970-2005 (David Hulchanski, Centre for Urban and Community Studies, University of Toronto) [PDF]
Poverty by Postal Code: The Geography of Neighbourhood Poverty, 1981-2001 (United
- Vertical Poverty: Declining Income, Housing Quality and Community Life in Toronto's Inner Suburban High-rise Apartments (United Way Toronto)
- Beyond Overwhelmed: The Impact of Compulsive Hoarding and Cluttering in San Francisco and Recommendations to Reduce Negative Impacts and Improve Care (San Francisco Task Force on Compulsive Hoarding)
- Balancing Care for Supportive Housing (Janet Lum, A. Paul Williams, Jennifer Sladek and Alvin Ying. Prepared by the Balance of Care Research Group, University of Toronto,May 2010)
- When Home is Community: Community Support Services and the Well-Being of Seniors in Supportive and Social Housing (Janet M. Lum, Simonne Ruff and A.Paul Williams. A Research Initiative of Ryerson University, Neighbourhood Link/Senior Link and the University of Toronto, Funded by United Way of Greater Toronto. April 2005)
- Turning the Key: Assessing Housing and Related Supports for Persons living with Mental Health Problems and Illness (Mental Health Commission of Canada) [PDF]
Send your ideas and solutions by e-mail (email@example.com), drop them off in person, or mail them to: CMP Consultation Feedback, 931 Yonge Street, 7th floor, Toronto, Ontario,M4W 2H2