TCHC unfairly evicting seniors: Ombudsman

Toronto’s waterfront

A new report by the city’s ombudsman says vulnerable seniors are being unfairly evicted from Toronto Community Housing facilities.

The report was released Thursday by ombudsman Fiona Crean following an investigation that examined 79 evictions over a two-year period from 2011 to 2012. “There’s been a pattern of callous and unfair treatment of many seniors, including at least one case in which a tenant died shortly after eviction,” Crean said in a statement released with the report Thursday.

Crean said Toronto Community Housing has not changed its practices since a report by Justice Patrick LeSage into the 2009 death of Al Gosling, an 81-year-old former tenant who died five months after being evicted for non-payment of arrears. Gosling was just a month shy of his 82nd birthday and had been a tenant of TCHC for 21 years.“My investigation has found TCHC staff did not change their practices,” Crean said.

The ombudsman listed a number of specific examples, including the eviction of a 30-year tenant with developmental disabilities after her subsidy was removed because of unverified reports her boyfriend was living with her. Crean said eviction proceedings were started in that case as a way to coerce the woman to change her behaviour after noise complaints were filed about her.

In another case, a man was offered a bus ticket and directions to a shelter after being evicted for missing a rent payment, despite paying some of the $404 he owed prior to his hearing.

“Some of Justice LeSage’s recommendations that have not been implemented are simple and straightforward,” Crean said “with no obvious excuse for three years of delay. As for the policies Toronto Community Housing has adopted, staff don’t always follow them.”

The report identified a number of problems with regards to how TCHC staff approach seniors, including “excessive bureaucratic letters” that are poorly written and confusing instead of personal contact, and use of eviction as a first resort to deal with problems instead of early intervention measures.

In a May 28 response to a draft report of the investigation, TCHC president Eugene Jones accepted all 30 of its recommendations and said Toronto Community Housing will work to implement them within the timelines set out by Crean. “Preventing evictions is a complex issue with shared responsibilities between the landlord, the resident and support agencies,” Jones wrote.

He said the task is especially difficult in cases involving issues of cognitive decline or mental health. “Although we are not a supportive housing provider, we do acknowledge our responsibility to consider the unique needs of vulnerable residents,” Jones added.

He said TCHC has faced “significant challenges and organizational changes over the past three years” that have hindered Its efforts to address seniors’ problems adequately. But he vowed to work toward, and surpass Crean’s recommendations.

The ombudsman welcomed his comments in her statement Thursday. “I am glad Toronto Community Housing has acknowledged its failures and committed yet again to improvements” Crean said in her statement. However she said the findings point to a larger problem.

“It is clear the people who are paying the price are the most vulnerable in our society, seniors who are poor, many of whom are vulnerable with failing health and mental health challenges,” Crean said. “They are the ones that are being hurt and I am worried not enough people care.” (CP24)

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