Part One: Toronto Community Housing Corporation
As a Torontonian, I have so many communities. My ethnic/cultural ones, my vocational ones, and my personal ones. Even my online ones. The connecting thread between them all is a sense of space. Once you have a space, you can have a community.
Space is emotional, geographic, intellectual, mental and of course physical. A community can come together with any one of these. Like the ladies who do Tai Chi at Grange Park, they are a spiritual, even intellectual community. But they still need a park to practice in. With a physical location, communities can create together. Think of the many different enclaves like Corsica Italy, Koreatown, or Little Tibet. When community members want to meet, hold events, and celebrate with each other it is physical space that allows that. Different kinds of space also interact. As a member of the Rwandan community in Toronto, we often look for physical spaces to host our cultural events. Having the space to express our shared heritage is important to furthering our community consciousness too. Access to physical space is essential if you want communities to thrive. This is ramped up when we speak about the individual’s space as shelter. People need homes, and Toronto cannot build them fast or equitably enough.
The challenges I have faced in the TCHC have been largely determined by where I am staying. During my time living in the cities’ periphery regions like Scarborough or Etobicoke, I experienced how difficult it is to meet as a community. For example, my little cousins who I lived in Scarborough cannot go to the park alone because it is across a giant street with multiple lanes. Parents are afraid to let children cross it alone. The same when our groups try to hold any festivals or meetings, access to space in Scarborough is harder even if it is where many of us live. Unable to meet we cannot properly advocate for ourselves. Living in downtown TCH housing, management was actively engaging us more often, and we had more options to hold our events. And this is just among TCHC accommodations/spaces. This lack of access is part of the failure of the TCHCs RentSafeTO and its failure in periphery communities especially.
As the second-largest housing provider in Canada, the TCHC cannot and should not be overseeing the management of over 110,000 tenants. In the future, the corporation should let communities manage their own spaces, and assist them in doing so.
Part Two: Communities then Housing
The current role of the TCHC is as a housing provider through affordable rents, subsidized rents, and market rent housing. Collaborating with communities the TCHC owns and builds units, or partners with private companies like Daniels to create mixed-use communities. But the TCHC has acknowledged that they are underfunded.
Too large to manage so many properties, especially so they are relevant to the communities around, the TCHC should work less than a building provider, and more like a platform for social groups, nonprofits, and other communities to build their own housing. The city of Toronto already has several nonprofit and coop housing providers, and they score much better in RentSafeTo rankings than the TCHC. There has already been a concerted effort to change the TCHC into a “social housing provider” including the forming of a Seniors Housing Corporation. The aim of having intentional housing for the senior communities is exactly what we need, but simply creating a smaller corporation will not make it a sustainable model. They will face similar problems just smaller relative to their portfolio of units. Instead of providing housing, the TCHC should provide space. Instead of collaborating with tenants, empower them. Vienna, one of the most successful cities for housing affordability gave its tenants the tools to make their own housing. Taking advantage of the lack of profit incentive, the TCHC can outsource housing management to the very communities that will live there.
Part Three: Toronto Social Housing Platform
The major issue with the TCHC is that they lose money. Unable to make any real profit it relies on government budgets. Many are expecting major projecting cutbacks. The TCHC needs to use its zoning relief and access to government land holdings to provide properties for nonprofits, cooperatives, and other community groups to manage, and maybe even own outright. These groups could take advantage of relaxed zoning to double occupancies, growing Toronto towards more missing middle housing it desperately needs.
Like Airbnb gives short-term rentals the *TSHP would give long-term rentals or rent-to-own plans to different social groups. Applying through an architectural competition different nonprofits can design housing and spaces for the communities they serve. With a non-interest loan, these groups can build new housing-like modular or tech-enabled practices that speak to the needs of the tenants and communities, and the TSHP can still manage the portfolio, while also charging operational fees to the groups. With allowances for commercial interests too, different groups could become self-sustaining, and offer event spaces for other groups to use.
Without political hurdles, the TCHC would offer physical property, administrative services, and non-interest loans to nonprofits/social housing groups that would be paid off by increasing the income from singly family homes and otherwise zoned spaces through higher density bringing in higher revenue per square meter. Properly managed savvy property management can increase density where it can be, and allow certain communities to stay heritage. By buying and selling on the open market the TCHC can move properties throughout the city increasing equity and connectivity.