3 comments

  1. In the wake of the youtube tirade by Derek Ballantyne (former head of Toronto Community Housing and now chief of Build Toronto), the Toronto Star’s Joe Fiorito has been writing a slew of articles which I think should be of interest to anyone interested in social housing issues.

    http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/628464

    http://www.thestar.com/comment/columnists/article/627878

    http://www.thestar.com/comment/columnists/article/627137

    I want to be very clear — I think the TCHC has tremendous fiscal challenges. I don’t think social housing is something that should be paid from the municipal tax base…it should go back to being a provincial responsibility. (The fact that it is paid for from municipal coffers provides an incentive for municipalities around Toronto to NOT build social housing — so that those who need it move to Toronto.)

    And, no doubt, Ballantyne has done some good work at TCHC, particularly his redevelopments at various social housing complexes such as Regent Park. But he also seems to have done a very poor job of getting the TCHC to deal adequately with problem tenants some of whom may have mental health challenges. I think he is way out of line when he becomes testy that journalists would chose to go after him on this issue.

    As for the praise that has accrued to Ballantyne over the Regent Park redevelopment, I think much of it is warranted. BUT I will also say that the problem with the old Regent Park (and with many other social housing sites) isn’t so much the “design” as so many architectural critics seem to want to suggest — the real problems have to do with the fact that those who are responsible for managing these sites (the province, then the city) allowed them to fall into such a state of disrepair. If the new units are allowed to fall into a similar state of disrepair, then things will be back to square one — though I don’t see this happening since the new units have been situated in mixed-income developments, which means you will have the middle-class types that politicians and bureaucrats (such as Ballantyne) are less able to ignore.

  2. i have a number of criticisms of joe fiorito’s articles, even though i think he writes from a feeling of compassion. my main issue is that i think he does not consider the point of view of the very individuals he profiles.

    in my experience, some people who self-identify as survivors of our mental health care system do not want treatment and reject offers of treatment, even when such individuals are not functional. in turn, some doctors and other healthcare providers stop treating certain mental health care patients who miss appointments or cease interacting with healthcare providers, even if that isolation is a symptom of mental illness.

    apartment neighbours and building managers can have no impact on these realities at the moment; nor can family members of individuals who are obviously unable to manage in their own apartments. the fact is that, most of the time, people are absolutely within their rights to withdraw into their private spaces and isolate themselves. only in rare cases can people be forced to interact with others.

    you may recall that joe fiorito recently wrote a series of articles about people dying in public housing apartments undetected. at the time, i recall him deploring the lack of social contact among residents of public housing. it’s the same issue in my view: people are free to isolate themselves in their private spaces.

    personally, i think that urban life would be rather unbearable if we were unable to isolate ourselves in our personal spaces from time to time (regardless of whether that space is owned publicly or privately).

  3. MKM,
    People should be free to isolate themselves whether their space is owned publicly or privately… but this is not an unlimited right. Nobody should be free to create deplorable, unsanitary, unsafe living conditions for others, even if they have mental health issues. If the same conditions described by Fiorito were found in a gentrified neighborhood, the situation would not be tolerated for very long, there would be intervention, and the individual responsible for said conditions would be dealt with in some manner (hopefully with compassion)… why is it that people who live in social housing do not seem to be entitled to the same level of consideration? Yes, on the one hand, we need to take into account the rights of those who want to isolate themselves and perhaps have mental health issues. But there are also the rights of neighbors who live alongside them. Fiorito’s stories seem to suggest that the TCHC has not been doing a good job of addressing either of these sets of concerns.

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