Tag

Tenants

Browsing

Woman of the Week: Kathy Milsom

When asked to use three words to describe herself, Kathy Milsom quipped, “ethical, high-integrity and committed to making a difference. That’s more than three, but these are hyphened words.”

Milsom was elected the new CEO of Toronto Community Housing (TCHC) nearly a month ago, and tries to run her office using the same mantra as mentioned above. Milsom is responsible for managing over 110,000 tenants as well as the maintenance of each building or facility, making her role one of the most challenging jobs in the city.

Toronto Community Housing has a mandate of providing safe homes for vulnerable people throughout the city. Before accepting the job, Milsom, looked at all the challenges the housing board had faced over the years and wanted to be the person who tried to help solve them as well as help make a difference in the community.

Milson has the benefit of international experience. She traveled the world with her parents, who were engineers, and learned a lot about each community and culture.  “I think it enabled me to be more independent when I was growing up and this helped me in my career,”she said.

When it was time for university, Milsom enrolled at the University of Toronto with the initial intent of studying medicine to become a doctor. Life threw her a curve ball when she lost both her parents. She found it hard to concentrate on medicine and therefore switched to civil engineering — just as a temporary change. This change, however, became permanent as Milsom re-discovered a fascination with buildings, design, and maintenance of structures. remembered why she was so fascinated with building, design and maintenance of structures.

“As a child or as a young person, I was always playing around with mechanical things. I was rebuilding engines of cars after I turned 16.” Civil engineering felt natural to Milsom.

 After working both full-time and part-time to put herself through school, Milsom began gaining as much professional experience as she couldMilsom has served as a chair of the advisory board for Direct Construction Company Limited, the Civil and Mineral Engineering Department at the University of Toronto, and was member of the Canadian National Exhibition and on their finance committee. Milsom is also been a member of the board of directors of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority since 2013. In 2016-17 she served as a director of Thermal Energy Inc.

But one of her most memorable shifts was just around five years ago when she stepped down as CEO at the Technical Standards and Safety Authority. Milsom worked for the TSSA for nearly eight years, managing 13 different sectors over Ontario. This experience taught her a lot about responsibility as she ensured the safety of citizens in public spaces.

“I enjoyed it because being a CEO for so many years,”she said. “I really came to value what a well-functioning board can do to constructively challenge you to be the very best CEO that I can be.”

When the opportunity to get involved with Toronto Community Housing came up, Milsom knew she wanted the job. Housing and community building was linked closely to her civil engineering background, and she was also ready to interact with different communities across Toronto.

Milsom was also excited to get er hands dirty. Her experience on boards didn’t allow her as much of an opportunity to interact with employees and customers.  “The higher up you go — the less you do hands-on,”she said. As CEO, she would be active in the organization

In her initial weeks as CEO, Milsom implemented new steps to ensure she was making a difference to all her employees as well as tenants. The first week was all about learning and getting out in the community to speak with tenants directly about some of their concerns. She also took the time in the first two days on the job to meet approximately 600 of her 1600 employees.

“I’m very proud of the people I get to work with,”she said. “I’ve met a good portion of them and I’ve seen some of our re-developments. For example, Regent Park, which I haven’t been by in a long time, as a citizen, but I went out there to see what the community is doing and I am extremely proud of what our team has created in partnership with the private sector, to really bring the community together.

What Milsom heard from her discussion with tenants and employees is that TCHC needs to communicate better and work towards faster processing and improved information systems. This means a better relationship with the tenants and the housing board, where there is a clear flow of information and where concerns are heard.

It is no secret that the TCHC has been plagued with a backlog of repairs. Billions of dollars are needed to help with the daily operations, maintenance, and general upkeep of the buildings. In response to this, Milsom said her main commitment is to provide clean, safe and well–maintained homes for tenants to thrive. It is a key priority and her board recently approved the request to the city for a $160 million budget for fiscal year 2018-2019 to deal with the repairs as well as prevent the permanent closure of any more housing units.  Milsom is hopeful that, if approved, this should help to solve a lot of the repair issues and complaints they have received over the years.

For the future, Milsom hopes the people of Toronto will recognize the Toronto Community Housing as an agency that everyone can be proud of. Milsom is also humbled to be in a position where she can mentor and guide people. She is set to be inducted into the Engineering Hall of Distinction at U of T this year.

 

Rent control needed to control rising prices

Rent is at an all-time high in Toronto, with low vacancy rates and high prices. In other words, it is nearly impossible to find a home to rent in the current market.

The cost of renting a home in the city has increased above the rate of inflation, and the municipal and provincial governments are looking at ways to help control the price of rent. The Ontario government announced in March  it will consider substantial changes to rent-control rules due to tenants complaining about double-digit rent increases that are leaving people homeless. As the rules stand, only apartment buildings built before 1991 can have rent control and the government is now looking at changing that.

Ontario introduced rent controls in 1976 as a temporary measure to lower rent increases to the rate of inflation, and the NDP government offered a five-year rent control exemption to units in 1992 to encourage developers to build new units. The rules then became permanent. Instead, landlords can only raise rent by 1.5 per cent annually, but can apply for additional increases. Many stakeholders, including CIBC Capital Markets, are against re-implementing rent control because it previously reduced new construction of apartment buildings, and accelerated building deterioration that had rent control.

Rent control is being criticized because there is a concern that landlords won’t upkeep apartment rentals if they can’t lift the cost of rent, or that tenants will remain for longer. It is assumed that landlords will do the bare minimum to maintain an apartment and many rent-cost units fall into disrepair. Avoiding rent control because it would cause landlords to not maintain their property truly demonstrates how corrupt the rental market is. There should be a morally upright desire to fix units. Instead, avoiding certain rent control strategies because it is naturally expected landlords won’t upkeep their responsibilities proves how greedy and deplorable the apartment rental market can be.

The City of Toronto has decided to implement a new set of rules that will force landlords to track tenant complaints, respond quickly to repair requests, and provide pest control. The rules will come into effect on July 1 and is being widely celebrated by tenants in Toronto. The program will be enforced 12 months after launching and will apply to 3,500 buildings with three or more storeys of 10 or more units, resulting in 350,000 apartments. The rules indicate that emergency requests such as no water or heat must be handled in under 24 hours and a pest control situation must be dealt with in 72 hours. Landlords will also be forbidden from renting an apartment with a pest control problem.

Re-implementing rent control is a necessary in Toronto, especially with the new rules that have been implemented that would force landlords to upkeep their rental units. The cost of renting an apartment should be at par with the rate of inflation, because otherwise it is giving way to corruption and greed. It is commendable that the province and city are getting involved in rentals and will ultimately force landlords into a position to provide tenants with fair prices and liveable apartment units.

Landlord licensing first step to appropriate housing standards

Seeing cockroaches every day in your home is not just unpleasant, it is downright traumatic. I lived in an apartment infested with cockroaches and seeing them crawl across my daughters books and toys has left both of us jumping at the sight of bugs. Not to mention my daughter still suffers from nightmares of the critters months later. Eventually, I couldn’t remain in that infestation any longer, so I packed up and left my apartment — but many people have no choice but to stay and live in these unfit conditions.

On June 8, city council voted 33 to 6 to move forward with a landlord licensing bylaw, a motion that will enforce annual inspections to ensure landlords are following acceptable building standards. The program would be similar to ‘Dine Safe’, which licenses restaurants in Toronto. The inspections would include surveying each apartment building and in-suite to ensure that it is following Toronto property standards, including not having bed bugs, cockroaches, and sufficient heating among other things. The city has proposed licensing for 3300 apartment buildings that are three storeys or higher.

On Wednesday, the Tenant Issues Committee amended and adopted the proposed Landlord Licensing program, which is ready to be presented to city council next week. City staff recommend adopting a bylaw that would enforce harsh penalties if landlords didn’t comply with municipal standards. The bylaw would also be financed with 20 per cent recovered from the tax base and the remainder would be covered by fees and penalties. The program would also mandate that landlords provide tenants with the Tenants Rights Handbook and more online tools to educate people on their rights in their homes.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) has been working towards landlord licensing for 12 years and is on the forefront of demonstrating just how terrible the housing situation is for many Toronto residents.  ACORN released a survey Tuesday that summarized the collective responses of 174 Toronto residents living in subpar conditions. Ninety-five per cent of respondents reported they live in conditions that violate property standards.

Cockroaches were found to be the number one complaint, with 83 per cent of tenants reporting cockroaches in their home. Out of this staggering statistic, 31 per cent of respondents see cockroaches every day in their apartment. This type of infestation is said to cause respiratory issues, especially in children.

When people move into their homes, 69 per cent of respondents report they needed repairs in their unit the day they moved in. “Building has upgraded the lobby at least six or seven times in the past 10 years but I would practically need to bleed and beg to get a 10 dollar toilet seat or a new 30 dollar kitchen fan,” one of the ACORN respondents said in the survey.

In 2008, the landlord licensing program was dismissed and the City of Toronto introduced the Multi Residential Apartment Building (MRAB) audit program. MRAB has come under fire because there is a mandatory fee that tenants must pay to get an inspector to come look at the building, and the process is reported to be abysmally slow. Many tenants are aware of MRAB, but don’t know how to call 311 to lodge an official complaint. Tenants also reported eventually give up trying to get help from the city because of a lack of results and high costs.

Landlord licensing is a good alternative because it would include a mandatory annual inspection of common areas, boilers, elevators, electrical systems and pest control. It would require landlords to pay a small fee for every unit in the building and city inspectors could maintain the standards without burdening the city budget. Licensing would ultimately be better for the city, tenants and landlords because it would provide more accountability similar to restaurant licensing.

Landlord licensing is still being drafted for council and is due to be presented sometime in the fall. As a Toronto resident who lived in low-income housing, I urge the city to act quickly. Before 2017, Toronto could be on its way to ensuring appropriate housing standards across income levels, which is essential to the health of the city overall. Living in unfit conditions is one of the worst experiences a child can have and it creates a potent sense of fear that permeates their lives. Instead of feeling like the way only way out is moving, the city should be protecting its children and enforcing acceptable living standards in homes. Every child deserves a fit home, don’t you agree?

Is regulating Airbnb the answer to housing crisis?

Without a doubt, rental housing in Toronto is a problem, but are short-term rentals the cause?

The City of Toronto is investigating short-term rentals such as Airbnb, Flip Key and Roomorama to see whether these temporary stays are taking available homes away from people who live in Toronto. In Wednesday’s Executive Committee meeting, the council voted to report back with recommended regulations in Spring 2017.

What is in the city report?

The Executive Committee wants to create a database that provides a breakdown of every service provider and unit type, including a list of landlords running short-term rentals. The city also wants to look into cases of sexual violence in short-term stays, safety standards, and working conditions for employees. The city will look into regulating and possibly restricting temporary rentals through zoning bylaws and licensing. Another solution presented in the study is to tax companies such as Airbnb and similar businesses as hotels.

Currently, Airbnb has 9,460 units or rooms in Toronto that were rented in 2015. These rooms were run by 7,320 hosts. Sixty-eight per cent of the rentals are held in apartments and the rest consist of a single room rental. This shows that not all rentals are taking up entire residences, but also include single rooms in people’s primary homes. Research also determined that 68 per cent of rentals were hosted by people who owned a single home and 37 per cent of short-term rentals were owned by people with more than one house. The high average of people who are renting from their primary residence also shows that not many people in Toronto are trying to make a business from Airbnb, but instead use it as a way to make extra money if they are not staying in the home.

How is Airbnb reacting?

Airbnb has released a report to refute the claims that the City of Toronto needs to regulate their short-term rental stays. Airbnb report says there are 8,200 active participants using the short-term rental program, which accounts for o.7 per cent of Toronto’s housing market. The company also relayed that 46 per cent of the rentals were less than 30 days annually. This shows that people most likely use Airbnb to rent out their homes while they work abroad or are on vacation. Airbnb proves that it differs from a hotel service because most hosts are only using the service occasionally rather than as a principal business. Airbnb also pointed out that the typical home listing earned $6.650 in the last year, which would divide into $550 per month. A long-term rental would make a landlord substantially more money, which further shows that hosts are not using the Airbnb service in place of renting out their home to a possible tenant.

How are other cities approaching Airbnb?

Other cities have adopted regulation approaches, with the most extreme being New York having outright banned short-term rentals. Chicago, Seattle and Philadelphia have introduced regulations that ensure short-term rental hosts pay hotel and sales taxes for using the service. Chicago, London and San Francisco have put a cap on the number of nights per year that a property can be rented short-term. Vancouver is also in the process of introducing regulations to license short-term rentals that will allow an unlimited number of stays as long as it is the principal residence of a host.

Toronto is set to regulate temporary rentals in Spring 2017, although the details are still unknown. Licensing the various business ventures could have its merits, but restricting short-term rentals to avert the housing crisis will not work. By mandating that a host only use their principal residence, and limit the number of nights for short-term stay, it ensures that a host is not using their own home as a hotel, but is instead trying to make an extra buck when they are away from work. On the other hand, strict measures such as banning or taxing short-term rentals prevents people living in an expensive city like Toronto from profiting from their already pricey homes. Either way, the housing crisis remains and focusing on controlling short-term rentals seems to be merely a distraction from the lack of affordable housing that plagues Toronto’s future.

My apartment was infested with cockroaches. The housing crisis is real.

When I tell people my home was infested by cockroaches, I get a variety of reactions. Some people shrug their shoulders and tell me that is a common problem in Toronto and other people shiver in disgust. Anyone who understands the difference between one or two cockroaches and a full-blown infestation immediately gives me a hug and asks what I need. Just in case you don’t know, let me explain.

The word “infest” means “to invade in large number, causing damage or hardship.” To me, it means seeing over one hundred cockroaches climb into every one of my things while I try to get what remains out of the house. It means losing a substantial portion of the things I worked hard for and loved. It means war between man and beast — and let me tell you the cockroach always survives.

The apartment in question is in Parkdale on Spencer Avenue. Parkdale is a complicated neighbourhood, with a population ranging from wealthy families in turn-of-the-century homes to low-income people surviving in dilapidated apartment buildings.  It is known as a low-income neighbourhood with a plethora of problems. One of the main issues is affordable housing.

The affordable housing waitlist in Toronto stands at 90,000 households, despite the failed attempt at building 10,000 affordable homes per year, originally introduced in the Housing Opportunities Toronto Action Plan 2010-2020. As for affordable housing that does exist, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation has a $2.6 billion backlog in repairs. A lot of other housing is rent-controlled, which this leaves tenants in a vulnerable position if they have a bullish landlord who wants them out to raise the rent.

The housing situation in Toronto is in crisis and what is the result? Children, adults and seniors living in pest-infested housing, myself included.

City Councillor Gord Perks of Ward 14 Parkdale-High Park sees the struggles within his ward.“Every tenant is being ignored. Their voices have not been heard at Queen’s Park,” Perks says. “Oftentimes, people with rental control are being muscled out of their units. The landlords aren’t happy about people who are rent controlled of course. They are trying to get above guidelines by allowing cockroaches to persist, and not doing repairs properly so people leave. Then they can put a fresh coat of paint on and jack up the rent.”

Large apartment building companies own many of the buildings in the area and it is well-known that landlords hold much power in Toronto. This leaves tenants in a vulnerable and disempowered position to demand better living conditions in these buildings. Children live in poverty-stricken housing barely five kilometers from Queen’s Park and City Hall.

Why is it that the affordable housing crisis hasn’t been solved in Toronto?

“None of the levels of government have fixed that problem. The prime minister, premier, and mayor think they can solve the problem without collecting more taxes from the population,” Cheri Dinovo, MPP for Parkdale-High Park says. “For example, we have a significant stock of Toronto community housing units in Parkdale. The CEO of community housing has said that he does not have enough money to maintain standards.”

The problem comes down to a lack of funding. It also is the result of the three levels of government passing the affordable housing agenda in Toronto back and forth like a hot potato nobody wants. Many solutions have been presented including Section 37, the Open Door program, Inclusionary zoning (IZ), Landlord Licensing, and rent control. None of these have yet solved the housing crisis.

Part of the reason for the lack of success of any affordable housing program is due to squabbling between different levels of government. The provincial government reintroduced their affordable housing bill Wednesday, including inclusionary zoning that would mandate a percentage of affordable housing in all new condo developments. The City of Toronto adamantly rejects inclusionary zoning in place of Section 37, mandating developers provide mandatory funding for community projects. But, a provincial law states it cannot be used in conjunction with IZ.

In truth, all of these options should be adopted to help obtain affordable housing as quickly as possible. “There is a whole host of tools we should be dealing with to help the housing crisis-because that is what it is- and we are not,” Perks says. “There is a middle line that has to be met. Inclusionary zoning is absolutely essential. It is the only tool that is working in municipalities, but they need to be able to invoke section 37 to build infrastructure. Otherwise, there is a danger that the section 37 will creep into funding for new affordable housing.” The provincial government and Toronto city council need to come to an agreement and find middle ground for both laws. Otherwise, people will continue to live in unacceptable conditions.

When I walk down the street in Parkdale, I don’t see people that deserve to live in cockroach-infested homes. I see a diverse and thriving population of families, and a community from far and wide who have come together to live in a neighbourhood overflowing with culture. I see children who deserve to have a clean home where they don’t get respiratory illness in the winter or feel like they can’t have friends over because their apartment building is in such a state of disrepair.

When landlords try to take advantage of people who can’t afford high-end housing, I wish they could see these are real people, not so different from their own mother or brother. I wish the City Council and the provincial government could stop fighting and see that these are the lives of families that are being played with. We need change now. I can only hope that the housing waitlist will disappear and poverty-stricken living conditions will become a thing of the past.

Open your door to the housing agenda at City Council

Affordable housing is on the agenda at this month’s city council meeting, only falling behind transit as a central focus. The Open Door Affordable Housing Program spearheaded by Toronto Mayor John Tory and Councillor Ana Bailão is on the agenda at the July City Council. Here is a rundown of the different programs and motions being recommended:

The Open Door program works to streamline the affordable housing process to speed up approvals and provide incentives for developers to create affordable and mixed-use housing. Open Door would provide incentives to private developers who are looking to build affordable housing. This includes providing an exemption from building and planning permit fees in order to build affordable housing and would be secured for a 20-year term.

The Open Door program is part of the 10-year Affordable Housing Action Plan 2010-2020 (HOT). HOT has a target of 1000 affordable rental homes and 200 new affordable ownership homes annually, or 10,000 rentals and 2000 ownership homes over 10 years. Currently, the project is set to fall short by 6000 rental units and nearly 600 affordable ownership homes. Open Door hopes to remedy that situation by implementing more development by the private sector, piloting projects, activating government land, and streamlining city processes.

The CityPlace site at Bathurst St. and Lakeshore Blvd. and is one of the five sites chosen to kick off the project. This project will provide 389 affordable rental and ownership units. There will be 80 affordable homes built in the area.

Other projects that will be discussed in City Council include a program for 100 new affordable rentals and ownership homes at 30 Tippet Rd, and 32 new affordable ownership homes at 2 Bicknell Ave. Securing affordable ownership housing at 505 Richmond St. W. is a priority and property tax exemptions at 3087 Danforth Ave. and at 3738 St. Clair Ave. E. is also on the agenda.

Councillor Joe Cressy also introduced an item that discusses the role of Toronto Community Housing. This item on the agenda recommends that City Council transition a portion of Toronto Community Housing Corporation into a new community-based non-profit corporation. This recommendation was made in light of the organization’s reputation of being an unsuitable landlord for affordable housing tenants. Cressy is pushing for more council support in affordable housing to give residents better care.

It is a busy day in City Council, and the transit debate is sure to take over the agenda Wednesday. However, we can hope that once a decision has been made the city can finally focus on the affordable housing projects the residents of Toronto desperately need.