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An Investigation into Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s Medical and Safety at Risk Priority Transfer Process For Tenants

The Issue

In the fall of 2015, Ombudsman Toronto investigated two complaints about TCHC’s handling of applications for Medical and Safety at Risk priority transfers. The first was from a young mother who feared for her safety after she witnessed a violent crime. TCHC denied her application twice, even after learning that she had fled to a shelter with her child and that while she was there, an intruder entered her unit and left a gun in her child’s drawer. 

Another family applied for a transfer after someone fired gunshots into their unit and two of their children were assaulted while walking home from school. This family was denied a transfer because they had difficulty getting police documentation to support their application, since the case was still under investigation. When they made a second application with the required documentation, TCHC staff lost their application for four months. 

Our Investigation

After we helped resolve both of these complaints, Ombudsman Toronto was left with concerns about whether TCHC’s priority transfer process is fair and responsive to the needs of TCHC tenants. We therefore decided to launch an Investigation into how TCHC handles Medical and Safety at Risk priority transfers. 

What We Found

We examined 606 applications for these categories of priority transfer and found many problems with the fairness and effectiveness of TCHC’s current process. Some specific issues included:  

  • Although it is described as a “priority transfer process” there are 1,413 approved households on the Medical and Safety at Risk priority list (1,069 Medical and 344 Safety at Risk) waiting to be transferred.
  • Nearly 55% of those households have been sitting on this priority transfer waitlist for five years or more. Seventy-six per cent have been on the list for two or more years. There are a number of reasons for this. One is the fact that under a rule set by the City, households whose units are larger than what they need (called “Overhoused”) have a higher priority level. There are currently 1,328 households on the Overhoused priority transfer list.
  • The exceptionally long time households may have to wait to transfer raises false expectations among people on the Medical and Safety at Risk priority list, and is unresponsive and unfair to the needs of tenants.
  • The current list does not identify or prioritize tenants with the most urgent health or safety needs. This is also unfair. 

Our Investigation also found cases where applications for Medical or Safety at Risk priority were arbitrarily and unfairly rejected. The decision-makers at TCHC responsible for approving these applications: 

  • Have no rules of procedure to guide their decision-making;
  • Do not have a consistent understanding of the eligibility criteria, which results in inconsistent decisions that sometimes go against stated TCHC policy; and 
  • Often give inadequate explanations for their decisions, or do not provide reasons.

Our Recommendations

Fairness demands that TCHC change the process for Medical and Safety at Risk priority transfers to respond more effectively to tenants’ health and safety needs, create more transparent and consistent procedures and better inform tenants. This report made 22 recommendations to TCHC, including that it, with the City’s support:

  • Create a higher priority “Crisis” transfer category for the most urgent cases, ranked higher than the Overhoused priority; 
  • Give the Crisis category clearly defined criteria to ensure that it identifies households with “direct, immediate and acute risks to health and/or safety” caused by their unit in a fair and timely way; 
  • Design and implement a procedurally and substantively fair process for deciding who qualifies for a Crisis priority transfer;
  • Provide clear, accessible and understandable information to tenants about how a household will qualify for a Crisis priority transfer and how to apply;
  • Design and implement a process to effectively serve the needs of Crisis priority transfer tenants once identified; 
  • Review the existing Medical and Safety at Risk priority transfer waiting list and decide whether to eliminate or maintain it, while individually informing all tenants on the list that they can apply for the new Crisis priority transfer category; and  
  • Eliminate discretionary transfers once the process for Crisis priority transfers is operating, with any exceptions requiring proper documentation and approval of the CEO.