Opening remarks by Chair Bud Purves at the Toronto Community Housing December 13, 2011 Board of Directors meeting

Opening remarks by Chair Bud Purves at the Toronto Community Housing December 13, 2011 Board of Directors meeting

December 13, 2011

Good morning, everyone, and welcome. This is our final public meeting this year, so before we get under way, allow me on behalf of the entire board to wish everyone all the best for the upcoming holiday season.

In April, the corporation moved quickly to make changes needed to fix the problems identified by the Auditor General. Confidence in fiscal prudence is of paramount importance. Our interim CEO Len Koroneos put in place changes to tighten financial controls, improve transparency and accountability, and enhance value for our tenants and stakeholders.

These changes included:

  • Developing an Enterprise Risk Management framework
  • Establishing an ethics and compliance structure and process
  • Creating a Fraud Prevention Directive, and launching the Do What's Right hotline first for staff, and now for tenants starting January 1, 2012
  • Revising its Directives for expenses, purchasing cards, cash advances, and its policies and procedures for procurement
  • Appointing a Senior Director of Strategic Procurement, a new position, to provide procurement leadership across the enterprise

With these changes, the corporation is on track to achieve its ultimate goal: a robust procurement program with an unwavering commitment to compliance, which is absolutely essential to safeguard the corporation's integrity and earn the confidence and trust of the City of Toronto, tenants, taxpayers and other stakeholders.

At the same time, the corporation did not stand still on its other business challenges, notably its $650-million backlog in unfunded capital repair needs. This is one of our biggest challenges, as it affects the quality of life for many of our 164,000 tenants and reduces the availability of affordable housing for the 79,000 households on wait lists.

The corporation first brought forward a recommendation to sell 22 single-family houses on the open market and dedicate the proceeds to pay for capital repairs. The managing director approved this plan in April and City Council approved it in June. Next, in August, we put five vacant houses on the market which had previously been approved for sale. These surplus properties have all been sold for proceeds totalling nearly $3 million.

You may recall that in October, this board approved a phased plan I must emphasize that the plan will involve considerable due diligence to sell more than 700 stand-alone units to raise $300 million to pay for capital repairs. In approving this plan, the board directed staff to place a high priority on the following areas:

  • Accommodating the needs of tenants who will be relocated
  • Working with community agencies to explore options to help existing tenants secure home ownership opportunities, and
  • Pursuing matching funding from the federal and provincial governments for capital repairs
  • Reporting back to the Board upon satisfying these conditions before the sales process occurs

The plan will go to City Council and, if approved, it will then go to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing for provincial approval.

To further assist us in finding capital dollars, Toronto City Council approved a plan to exempt Toronto Community Housing from paying municipal property taxes. This tax change will generate about $10 million a year, and the money will start to flow in 2012. This money, and the proceeds from the sale of the houses, will go into a State of Good Repair Fund to be used strictly to pay for capital repairs. There will be a clear and transparent sales and funding program.

We have also generated $4.5 million for capital repairs through the sale of the corporation's equity investment in our laundry provider, Sparkle Solutions. This is an example of maximizing the use of a non-core asset to serve as many tenants as possible.

Moving revitalization forward

Efforts to revitalize buildings and communities continued in 2011. We opened a new affordable housing building for seniors at 717 Broadview Avenue and continued our successful partnership with Daniels Corporation in Regent Park. The launch of the Paintbox condominium in October exceeded expectations, and our partnership is creating a real estate market in Regent Park for the first time in the city's history.

On November 30, City Council endorsed the Lawrence-Allen Secondary Plan, which will allow the multi-phased plan to revitalize Lawrence Heights to move forward. The plan will gradually replace the aging 1,208 social housing units in Lawrence Heights with new, quality, energy-efficient homes side-by-side with 4,100 new units of market housing. First steps in 2012 include completing zoning approvals for phase 1 and working with the City to secure funding for the public infrastructure for phase 1. Although funding for this project remains to be secured, the corporation has set out the framework for a successful project.

Supporting successful tenancies

As you may know, a recent incident occurred suggesting that the company was taking steps to evict a tenant on December 25th. While the notice in question was not an eviction order, nevertheless I am personally very concerned, as I am sure all my Board members are, that this incident occurred. Over the year, the company has taken several steps to strengthen how it supports successful tenancies. For example:

  • In August, the board approved the updated eviction prevention policy [PDF, 31 kb] as well as a new policy for evictions with cause [PDF, 34 kb], two important steps in implementing improvements recommended by Justice Patrick LeSage.
  • The board also approved an accessible customer service policy, which sets out how the corporation will provide services to persons with disabilities in a manner that respects their dignity and independence. All Toronto Community Housing employees will complete mandatory training on accessible customer service by the end of the year.

These initiatives have to be driven deeper into the awareness of all staff in the company, and I can assure you that your Board is engaged.

Promoting community safety

Tenants and other stakeholders have consistently identified safety as a key issue in their communities. To help improve community safety, the corporation is strengthening its partnership with the Toronto Police at both the corporate and divisional levels. A first occurred on October 31st, when Community Safety Officers met with their police counterparts to talk about how we can improve collaboration, information sharing, and community planning around issues of mutual concern.

Building healthy communities

We continued to work with partners to build healthy communities in 2011. Through our Rookie League partnership with the Jays Care Foundation, 800 children from our communities took part in baseball day camps this summer. In September, more than 200 volunteers helped to build a playground at West Mall in one day through our partnership with KaBOOM! And just last weekend, we celebrated the numerous improvements made in the St. James Town community as a result of $500,000 in public and private investments through our Recipe for Community partnership.

Building better processes

Staff are working more closely with the City of Toronto. A great example is the City Stores pilot project conducted this fall in the Seniors Directorate. Staff are using the City's online purchasing system to buy basic goods and supplies used every day in our buildings, such as paper towels, batteries and garbage bags, at a much lower cost and with tighter controls. Staff reduced their costs by one-third during the first two weeks of the pilot project. In fact, we believe that by engaging in this city-led project, we will save $3.5 million at Toronto Community Housing alone. We hope to extend this project, and cooperation begins with the City.

Ensuring strong leadership

Finally, I would like to comment on our executive leadership. Recently, two officers of the corporation, Mitzie Hunter and Howie Wong, announced their resignations to pursue outside opportunities. I am working with Len to put a plan in place for backfilling these positions while a longer term plan is developed.

While we will miss their expertise and contributions, we are fortunate that Mitzie and Howie are both going to organizations that pursue many of the same goals as Toronto Community Housing. We wish them every success in their new roles and look forward to working with them in future.