A task force charged with examining the state of Toronto Community Housing has uncovered hundreds of millions of dollars for capital repairs through mortgage re-financing.

The task force’s interim report released on Wednesday states that it has freed up an additional $171 million this year and another $200 million next year after re-financing the mortgages on an unknown number of TCHC buildings.

The move was made possible with the help of a new federal government program that is compensating the city for some of the financial penalties it will incur as a result of refinancing the mortgages.

“Believe it or not in this environment where today you can go out and get a mortgage for 2.75 per cent we had mortgages on some of these properties for 11 per cent,” Mayor John Tory told reporters on Wednesday. “This program and the penalty forgiveness is not a solution (to the TCHC’s repair backlog) but it will help us.”

In 2013 the city approved a $2.6 billion, 10-year capital repair plan for crumbling TCHC buildings that was based on equal contributions from all three tiers of government, however to date neither the provincial or federal governments have contributed any money to the program.

Speaking with reporters, Tory said that finding an additional $371 million to put towards the repairs is a “substantial step” but ultimately won’t solve the problem presented by the TCHC’s aging housing stock. A TCHC report previously suggested that 21,739 units will have to be closed over the next 10 years if the repair backlog isn’t addressed.

“We have work to do in getting these governments to come in and participate in the full program,” Tory said. “The option of just doing nothing is not on the table.”

Task force sets sights on drug dealing in TCHC buildings

The task force, led by Senator Art Eggleton, was formed in January to help develop a new governance structure for the TCHC and to make suggestions on how to improve operations.

Though recommendations on governance and other structural matters won’t be made until the release of the task force’s full report in December, the interim report does offer several ideas on how safety and the overall standard of living can be improved in TCHC buildings.

Some of those recommendations include petitioning the province for greater powers to evict residents believed to be participating in the drug trade or other criminal activities, appointing live-in superintendents for TCHC buildings and deploying additional safety staff. The report also asks the TCHC to focus on creating more job opportunities for residents and calls for the development of stronger, more transparent standards for cleaning, repairs and the removal of pests.

“All of us have the right to feel safe and secure in our homes and that applies equally to TCHC residents. We are letting them down and we have been doing so for some time,” Tory said. “I have stood in these communities and had residents literally point to a door and say ‘behind that door resides someone who deals in drugs.’ The TCHC and the residents have been handcuffed by laws and procedures that stack the deck for those that choose to flout the law.”

While Tory would not specifically say what type of legislative changes he would like to see implemented to help the TCHC evict troublemakers, he did allude to a program in Manitoba where an investigative unit within the housing authorities works alongside police.

Tory also said that he will be asking the TCHC to include “specific legislative and policy changes” that it would like to see made as part of an action plan that is to be submitted to the city within the next 60 days.

“I would like to see happening by the end of the year some of the legislative changes in process, so we can know that they are going to be passed into law,” Tory says. “I will take it directly to the premier and say this is urgent and this affects the safety and security of thousands of people.”

CEO promises to carefully review report

The interim report from the task force was prepared after about 30 meetings and interviews with hundreds of residents.

Speaking with reporters following the release of the report, interim TCHC CEO Greg Spearn pointed out that work has already begun to help address some of the issues raised by the task force.

Specifically, Spearn said that the TCHC has hired more community service coordinators, community safety unit special constables and building cleaners and has plans to install an additional 570 security cameras in its buildings by the end of this year.

Nonetheless, Spearn said it is clear to him that more work needs to be done.

“While much has been done to improve our performance we fully acknowledge that we are only part of the way to providing the homes that residents deserve and meeting the standards that city and public expect,” he said. “The recommendations in this report will help guide, focus and prioritize our efforts. Wherever we can reallocate resources to achieve immediate results we will and where more investments are needed we will begin discussions with our board and the city about finding those resources and including them in our 2016 budget.”

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