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Toronto Community Housing residents face extra COVID-19 challenges

Toronto Community Housing residents face extra COVID-19 challenges
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The 77-year-old Toronto Community Housing tenant in North York has physical limitations including two prosthetic legs, no fingers on her right hand and missing parts of fingers on her left.

She gets help from family, including a primary caregiver son, and neighbours. But her daughter, Hilda Doan, said they worry about the global pandemic’s impact on a woman who has overcome so much — arriving from Vietnam a single mother, tireless work, illness and amputation, and mental health challenges.

Social distancing is especially tough for somebody who is remarkably resourceful but relies heavily on others, Hilda said. She worries her brother’s security guard work could expose him to the virus, which would further isolate Tam-thanh.

“TCH is also densely packed housing, where it may become an extra level of risk as community members stop in to check on or help my mother when my brother isn’t home,” she said, adding her mom luckily stocked up on nonperishable items.

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“Although her situation can benefit from more support, we are thankful that TCH, in combination with social assistance (that has now turned into her pension) has allowed housing to be affordable and makes for one less thing to worry about.”

For many of the other 100,000-plus TCH tenants paying rent, April 1 will be a concern since COVID-19 restrictions have shuttered many businesses, reducing incomes for some of the lowest-paid people in the city.

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The city agency, Canada’s biggest landlord, has committed to immediately adjust the rents of people who lost income due to the virus, part of the efforts to help them through this crisis, said TCH spokesperson Bruce Malloch.

The 90 per cent of TCH tenants who have rent set in accordance with their income will be eligible for an immediate rent reduction if they lost income because of COVID-19, Malloch said.

Those paying market rates who suffered economically can opt for three-month rent reductions — three-quarters, half or one-third of the usual amount — and repay the reduced amount, with no interest, over a period of six to eight months.

“If (tenants) have lost their job or lost income due to COVID-19, we’re working to make sure their housing unit is secure. The only category for which you could be evicted (from TCH at the moment) is illegal acts,” Malloch said.

As of Thursday afternoon, TCH had not heard of any residents testing postive for the coronavirus. About 1,800 employees — 90 per cent of TCH staff — remained on the job, with roughly 500 working from home. Some 230 were not working for various reasons and 39 were self-isolating.

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Many are busy calling all seniors and other tenants deemed “vulnerable” to check up on them, Malloch said — a task made tougher by con artists also busy calling people.

“They are claiming to be volunteers who are going to deliver groceries to their homes and say they need (tenants’) banking information,” Malloch said. “It’s slowing us down a bit because some tenants are hanging up thinking our person is a scammer.”

Posters are going up about the scammers and the rent adjustments, along with the calls and mailouts.

Susan Gapka, a Toronto transgender rights activist and longtime TCH tenant, said the agency seems to be trying to help residents cope with COVID-19 — but it’s a big job given there are almost 60,000 units across Toronto.

“I see signage in elevators and hand sanitizer put out but on the best of days TCH has a hard time meeting the needs of tenants,” Gapka said, saying the agency, which has weathered multiple leadership changes, is years overdue in introducing a new engagement system for tenants, many of whom have multiple challenges.

“This is why social housing is so incredibly important — they provide a social component,” said Gapka. “They’re more than a landlord.”

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