New housing for aboriginal families

Aboriginal families in need of affordable housing got some good news last week. Toronto Community Housing (TCH) signed an agreement to transfer ownership of 20 homes to Wigawamen Inc., an aboriginal housing provider.

TCH will receive a total of $400,000 for the properties, one of which is located in East York at 239 Milverton Blvd.
Angus Palmer, general manager of Wigawamen, says the deal helps one of Toronto’s most vulnerable communities.
“It’s an opportunity to take 20 housing units, the vast majority of which are vacant and have been vacant for many years, and rent them out to aboriginal families who are in desperate need of housing,” Palmer said.
A non-profit charity for 38 years, Wigawamen owns over 400 units in the city and is the province’s largest aboriginal housing provider.
Critics of the transfer, such as Kevin Gaudet of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, claim TCH undersold the properties according to their market value, which could have garnered millions for city coffers.
“The short answer is that it’s not providing good value for the taxpayer,” Gaudet said. “When you sell off assets at lower-than-market value, it’s not a good business case, and selling 20 properties for $400,000 – I’m at a loss to see how this is a good thing for the dispossession of assets.”
In a press release, TCH states that the homes require $1.2 million in repairs to make them livable. It goes on to say that the other reason for the transfer to Wigawamen involves provincial legislation requiring TCH to maintain a certain number of affordable housing units in the city.
In the end, Mitzie Hunter, chief administrative officer for TCH, believes the city has come out ahead.
“A real estate review conducted in 2008 noted that there was no longer the business case to provide the $1.2 million in repairs,” Hunter said. “The solution was to transfer these houses to a social service agency that would maintain them as affordable housing so we wouldn’t have to replace those units.
“That is a legal requirement. If we sell houses, we have to replace the same number of units. To replace those units, we would have had to find an additional $3 million more than we could get selling the houses on the market.”
Hunter added that TCH received several proposals from different housing providers, but chose Wigawamen because it has access to federal funding for repair work and the “ability to do the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the homes.”
Responding to critics, Palmer emphasized the deal helps alleviate the shortage of large affordable housing units, a problem that continues in the city.
“We’ve done a lot of housing developments over the years,” he said. “And the chance to preserve the housing stock of three-bedroom units that are ground-oriented with backyards for children to play in, that’s a really precious asset we think should be preserved for affordable housing.”
Wigawamen expects to have the homes ready for occupancy by May 2011.