Toronto Community Housing spending scandals erode public confidence
If the Toronto Community Housing Corp. is not a “corrupt agency,” as its chief executive insists, then the explanation for an alleged spending scandal can only be incompetence.
Gene Jones is the latest TCHC boss who’s had to explain misuse of tax dollars, after revealing Tuesday that a preliminary audit found improprieties involving repair work, and could include kickbacks and double billing.
Jones was brought in last year to clean up the TCHC after previous investigations found problems including excessive internal spending. So we shouldn’t be surprised when he announces there’s more trouble.
An investigation began after an anonymous tip, and employees came forward with further information, said Jones, adding he wants to dispel the notion that the TCHC is a corrupt agency.
If all the previous scandals are added to the current problem, it’s hard to come to any conclusion other than corruption or chronic ineptitude.
Reports from city auditor Jeff Griffiths in 2012 concluded that between $4 million and $10 million of the TCHC’s annual procurement budget of $200 million was wasted through a lack of competition.
In one case, a $25 million refurbishment contract was awarded based on an unsolicited proposal.
Similar problems arise at the TCHC every few years, and the response is always the same: No corruption here, folks, and we’ll fix whatever the problem is, so let’s move on.
As far back as the mid-1990s, when it was called the Metro Toronto Housing Authority, an audit found widespread fraud that resulted in a police investigation and a declaration from the provincial housing minister of the day that fraud would not be tolerated.
It sounds a lot like what Jones said on Tuesday.
There’s a culture of playing fast and loose with money at the TCHC, which may be a by-product of allowing such a large agency the nimbleness needed for managers to fix things – and there’s a lot to fix – in a timely way.
But when the same things happen over and over, it is inevitable that public confidence in the institution will erode. And with housing a big ticket item, it terms of the taxpayer dollars needed to fund it, that’s an enormous problem.
Unless Jones is able to turn the ship around, we’ll be hearing about another spending scandal soon enough.
And if a provincial government with a low tolerance for spending on poor people (as in Tories) is elected, public housing in Toronto will be in big trouble.