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 could. Milsom 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.