Actually, It’s About Ethics In Canadian Journalism

David Hains, “Lessons from Rob Ford’s City Hall”:

As much as you’d like to hope that City Hall is too big and important an institution to be filtered through one man, that is not the case. Time and again, our public conversations have been distilled through Rob Ford’s ideology, preferences, and id. Rather than discussing important issues, like the funding crisis at Toronto’s social housing agency, we heard about the chief magistrate’s homophobia, racism, and misogyny. Would he apologize this time? What did he really mean, though? What would he say to Joe Warmington?

Jesse Brown:

I think that there’s a sense in the press that they don’t want to start something. They want to respond to something. I think that’s a misunderstanding of what the world of the press should be. I think the Toronto Star is the exception to the rule I’m about to describe, but I think, generally speaking, the Canadian press has strayed from its basic connection to its audience. We should be running toward things that have not broken yet. News should be what people don’t know about yet. Everybody is just sort of chewing on the same bone. To be in a completely responsive mode is not responsible journalism.

It’s been incredibly vindicating to see Jesse Brown come along and make these criticisms of the industry. Not that we haven’t been yelling our heads off, but there are an awful lot of media people who will only take it seriously if it comes from the the right sort of white guy. (I don’t think they even realize they do this.) If you are one of those media people, go play outside. Everyone else, keep reading: Continue reading Actually, It’s About Ethics In Canadian Journalism

A Very Special Cheat Sheet: #TObudget 2014

  1. A Note: Operating Vs. Capital
  2. First, Some Context
  3. Operating Budget
  4. Capital Budget
  5. The Most Disingenuous Game

I don’t usually do Cheat Sheets for special meetings, but this one is for the 2014 budget! I love the budget!!! The entire exciting process, which started all the way back in November, is culminating this upcoming Wednesday in a meeting sure to be full of delightful surprises, dramatic reversals, procedural confusion, and petty, childish infighting. Continue reading A Very Special Cheat Sheet: #TObudget 2014

Don’t act so fucking shocked

I’ve seen a few people lamenting that the focus is on Ford smoking crack in that video and not his racist and homophobic remarks, and it’s all just too precious. The hard truth is that for the vast majority of people, using an illegal drug associated with poor black people is more scandalous, more outrageous, more offensive, more disrespectable than looking down on people for being black or gay.

Ford has said racist, homophobic and transphobic things in the past. Ford has been publicly drunk and disorderly in the past. Ford has used drugs in the past. None of this proved enough to stifle his career; none of it attracted demands to step down from such a wide range of people.

The thing is? An awful lot of the people in politics and media who are now going after Ford for smoking crack have been racist and homophobic themselves. Toronto Sun editor Lorrie Goldstein trafficking in racist stereotypes of violent, hypersexual black men, city councillor Mike Del Grande parroting “welfare queen” myths, implying that the groups overrepresented in prison just commit more crimes, etc. Councillor Denzil “Boat People” Minnan-Wong.

It’s not just about conservatives. In the original Star story Doolittle and Donovan repeated “Somali” over and over, apparently oblivious to any repercussions to using the video owners’ ethnicity as shorthand. Members of the community, like Abdi Aidid, forced the paper to revise. (The ethnicity of another key player has escaped comment.) It’s not the first time major papers have previously made a mess of covering and commenting on issues in racialized communities. And it’s not just journalists, either. Today on CP24 I heard one leftist councillor — Paula Fletcher, I think — referring to “gangbangers” as she condemned the company the mayor keeps.

All these people, they smoke pot, they drink, they drop acid, they snort coke, and it’s all right as long as you do it on your own time and don’t come to work fucked up…but stooping to crack cocaine in Rexdale…that’s something else. That’s ghetto. It transgresses the social code of this very white and middle-class sphere.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t go after Rob Ford. He is unfit for office and he’ll never be able to do his job until he tackles his personal demons. But he shields himself with the bodies of young black men and they have been collateral damage in this hunt. (Maybe soon we’ll know if that’s what happened to Anthony Smith.)

I don’t expect much worthwhile discussion of all this in the mainstream media, where the vast hordes of straight white male journalists, even if they are not overtly bigoted, tend to be clueless and deeply uncomfortable talking about things outside their experience. While they occasionally get self-righteous kicks calling out blatant racism or homophobia when it’s not one of their own, the industry of political journalism and punditry is structured in such a way that “minority” issues simply don’t get talked about, and definitely not by marginalized people themselves.

So if you want to hammer the mayor on his racism and homophobia, that’s great, but if you want the masses to care you need to take the right angle. Make it about Ford’s hypocrisy, how he pretended to care about his football team in public and then speaks of them dismissively in private, because the kids are more sympathetic if people don’t have to remember they’re black. Make it about how “fag” is a bad word, so people don’t have to confront their own feelings about male effeminacy. And don’t act so fucking shocked when a heteronormative white industry doesn’t see what the big fucking deal is.

Councilwatching: Apr. 15 Executive Committee casino meeting

Executive Committee, Meeting 30, April 15, 2013

I set my alarm for 7 but woke up at 8:45. With no time to eat before I dash out the door, the bike ride to City Hall feels more arduous than it should. Or maybe it’s just the tires, flabby after a winter of neglect.

But whatever, it’s still a marathon committee meeting, and those are always fun, right? In the masochistic way that councilwatching can be described as fun, anyway. I’m too late to get into Committee Room 1, but everyone knows that the real fun to be had is in the overflow room, Committee Room 2, where you can applaud, heckle, and cheer with impunity from cushy chairs. You can also bring in food — a must for surviving several hours of deputations.

There’s several other Scoobies there as well. Paisley and I take turns liveblogging at Astrid’s new site while Jude and Cityslikr snark on Twitter. Many more people are following from afar. It would have been just like old times, but this meeting has kind of a different feel from the budget ones, or even transit. The hefty speakers’ list has surprisingly few of the “usual suspects” that I’ve come to know and love since that memorable July night, the people various councillors have insinuated are lefty union plants paid to be there. There are, however, quite a few union members, singing the praises of union jobs and expressing their hopes that a casino will bring more. (And, as far as I know, that’s all it is — hope, not a guarantee.)

There are also many people paid to be there because they are casino lobbyists. Lobbyists wouldn’t be lobbyists if they weren’t slick and smarmy, but casino lobbyists, especially the Americans, are something else. Though for them it’s not a casino, it’s an “integrated resort” that will provide everything visitors want yet not suck money away from local businesses, that will “give back to the community” and provide “empowerment”. They put buildings in cities; that’s “city-building”, right? Ughghghghhhhh kill me.

The pro-casino side is not a monolith. There’s the Vegas people, MGM people, who want it downtown, somewhere like Exhibition Place. Our homegrown Woodbine folks want it in Etobicoke and harp on the jobs talk and rally outside with slogans about horse racing. Some local businesspeople expect “bleed-out” from a downtown facility (that is the word they used I am not being facetious) or maybe, if they’re celeb chef Mark McEwan, hope for their own place inside. There’s even sort of cranky academics in the Norm Kelly mold to debunk statistics about gambling addiction.

As I get progressively grumpier, kept awake with a steady stream of sugar and caffeine, I can’t help but wonder how we got this far, how councillors have really ended up extolling the virtues of tacky casinos when the only thing that ever drew them to the idea in the first place was the lure of a mountain of FREE MONEY! that was only ever hypothetical. We might get $150 million and solid union jobs and glittery ponies to fly us to work! Well, I’d like a glitter pony too, but I’d sure as hell look it in the mouth first.

If only the councillors on Executive Committee, who have demonstrated the ironclad political will to cut public services and sell off affordable housing, had the gumption to consider an alternative revenue tool — one that has zero risk of enabling addiction, increasing gridlock, starving local businesses, going massively over budget, etc. And rather than profiting off the most vulnerable, it could be made proportionate to people’s wealth or ability to pay! It’s called a tax and I do wish they would consider it.

And with that rant delivered to Twitter, I have to hurry back to my co-op, where our little finance committee is meeting to go over the draft budget. Things have been moving along quickly and I would have gotten to depute that day, but it doesn’t really matter that much when you get the feeling they’re not listening to you anyway. They’re listening to the people who wined and dined them.

The largest parts of our budget we can’t really do anything about, because it’s mortgage payments and necessary capital projects and such. But for one section I did have an idea about something we could do differently, something that would cost us this year but might help solve a problem in the long run and that maybe the membership would go for. And the other committee members thought it was a good idea! And we asked the accountant to look into it! It’s a thing! It came out of my head and now it is an actual thing! Something I said made a difference!

And afterwards, even though it is sort of out of the scope of the budget, we discussed Whatever Is To Become of Us (after we pay off our mortgage and our operating agreement with CMHC ends). We have an unusually high proportion of units that are subsidized by CMHC, more, one of our expert guys tells us, than we will be able to maintain after the agreement ends. So we might have to start phasing out subsidies. But that’s easier said than done, because, well, these are our neighbours. It’s one thing to say, that is a sensible financial policy, and vote for something that will never affect you. But when you’ve watched kids grow up, and you say hi to someone every morning, and if they get sick or lose their job and can’t afford rent and might face eviction and you yourself have been on ODSP or OW and know how impossible it is to live on that, when a subsidy is available that might save them — that’s a different matter, isn’t it? Then you have a motivation to come up with different ways of doing things, and we did talk about some.

We also talked about the mind-melting ridiculousness of RGI (rent geared to income) housing and social assistance, which I’ve ranted about before — how you have to report your rent to OW/ODSP, who calculate your payment from that, but how you have to report your OW/ODSP income to housing, who calculate your rent from that, and — aaargh! It’s a silly thing but it’s immensely cathartic to talk to people who just get it, who know exactly what you’re talking about, even if you don’t see eye-to-eye or know how to solve the problem (yet). It’s been a lousy day for a lot of reasons, but I came away feeling much better.

So I guess those are my priorities. At the end of the day, I would much rather sit around the table with a few people who get it, and get things done in my tiny corner of the world, than waste my skills spilling my heart out to more powerful people who have no interest in having me around and will only consider listening to me if I jerk them off exactly the way they like it. Yeah, I’m bitter, and no, I’m not just talking about politicians. Time to go to bed and do it all over again tomorrow.

Section 37, Affordable Housing, and Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

It’s a constant source of rage and despair for me to see glass condos and “luxury townhomes” going up around town while the affordable housing waitlist stretches to record numbers. (161,266 people total [PDF] as of January, in case you were wondering.) And, as you know, Bob, since all those new developments mean more Section 37 funds,

—oh, what’s Section 37? Basically, the zoning rules say what kind of stuff you’re allowed to build, and if they say you can only build a tower 6 storeys high, and the developer wants to build one 12 storeys high, Section 37 of the Planning Act says they have to pay some extra money that offsets the extra load on local infrastructure, or goes to benefit the community.* Like, streetscaping, or a daycare, or something.

It’s not a tax because that’s not allowed; the money doesn’t go into some citywide pot because that would make it a tax**; the exact amount, and the nature of the benefit, gets worked out with the city councillor for each development. Anyway

I naturally wondered if we couldn’t kill two birds with one stone and use Section 37 money for affordable housing. It’s totally an approved use. They can build it elsewhere in the neighbourhood, or they can set aside units in their condo. Because the current rules about it are kind of restrictive, the Planning & Growth Management Committee asked the city planners to revise them so it’s easier to do.*** And today, yes, today, they are talking about it at the committee meeting!!!****

I went to a very interesting open house on this back in November, where the planners explained the upcoming changes. You can read the report yourself to see what bits they’ve added (bolded here). From the list of possible incentives:

i. purpose built rental housing with mid-range or affordable rents, land for housing, affordable ownership housing, or, at the discretion of the owner, cash-in-lieu of affordable rental or ownership units or land;
j. a maximum of 20 individual affordable rental units, located in a registered condominium, provided the units are owned and operated as rental housing by a registered non-profit housing provider satisfactory to the City and meet established criteria, including securing through an agreement the maintenance of affordable rents for at least 25 years and rental tenure for at least 50 years. Such units will be deemed to be rental housing notwithstanding the definition of rental housing that would otherwise exclude condominium-registered units.

(However, after public consultation they’ve decided to remove the cap on rental units, and take another look at the 25- and 50-year requirements (some people think that’s too long; others, not long enough). None of this is written in stone yet.)

So, what’s the problem here? Why aren’t we all jumping for joy? What are some of the possible drawbacks of this approach?

The York Quay Neighbourhood Association thinks that “the affordable housing shortage in Toronto is so acute that we foresee all future Sec. 37 funds flowing towards this desperate need” (PDF), which is painfully adorable, you just want to ruffle their hair. WHO’S A GOOD CONCERNED CITIZEN. YOU. YES YOU ARE. GO FETCH. As a planner present at the open house told me, affordable housing, which calls up stereotypes of bedbug-ridden welfare scroungers bringing down property values, is “poison” to developers. The councillor has to push for it, and the developer has to agree to it, and because it’s something negotiated rather than mandated, you can’t make either of them do any particular thing. Developers make less money if they have it on-site, and they think it’ll bring down the property value if it’s built off-site. Councillors are inclined to side with developers as well; nobody wants to be seen as unfriendly to business. There are a few councillors who consistently negotiate for more housing in their wards (Vaughan, Wong-Tam), but that is entirely because they feel like it. There is no way to make, say, Doug Ford get a developer to opt for affordable housing rather than daycare.

(Can’t we make rules about this stuff? you might ask. Short answer: it’s called “conditional zoning” and “inclusionary zoning” and it’s up to the province, which has taken absolutely no action on it despite the fact that they’re theoretically in favour of it and people do keep putting forward motions and such. Write your MPP.)

Similarly, you can’t say how many units have to be set aside. Nor, it seems, can you add a clause saying “not all of the crappiest units, either”. That all is settled on a building-to-building basis. There’s nothing keeping anyone from setting aside a handful of terrible condo units for the non-profit and calling it a day. It’s too scattershot an approach to help the vast numbers of people who are inadequately housed.

The even deeper problem, which City staff are totally not rushing to point out, is that “affordable”, as the city planners are using it here, doesn’t actually mean, you know, affordable. Most of us hear “affordable housing” and think something like 30% of gross income, TCHC waitlist, bedbugs, etc. LOL NO. Note the inclusion of “mid-range” rent and “affordable ownership”***** in the guidelines. And “affordable ownership” doesn’t mean, like, those programs at Regent Park. “Affordable ownership”, as we were told at that meeting, means average sale price. Dear everyone, do you think the average Toronto home’s sale price is affordable?******

And lest you think I’m just pulling shit out of my ass, ACTO (Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario), who are slightly more in touch with reality than the YQNA, also point this out in their letter (PDF). They also note that over the past sixteen years, only 1,589 “affordable” units have been secured as rental housing. And over half of those were “mid-range” rent rather than, you know, actually affordable. If you think that slightly expanded guidelines will dramatically change that…I’ve got a bridge to sell you. They’re not gonna make a dent in the affordable housing waitlist, which is sitting at about 87,300 applications.

This is the main problem with using a planning tool never intended for the purpose to secure, you know, a basic fucking human right: case-by-case negotiations relying on individual goodwill (but mostly capitalism) will never, ever, ever replace legislation, policy, and investment in infrastructure. Like, ever.

* If you’re wondering how a community benefit takes the weight off local infrastructure, the Federation of North Toronto Residents’ Associations feels your pain (PDF).

** It would be wonderful if all city councillors understood this but they don’t.

*** They mentioned two cases where condo units were set aside for affordable housing:

  • The Charlie, a condo near King and Spadina, where four units throughout the building are to be owned and operated by Kehilla, a Jewish affordable housing nonprofit

  • Artscape Triangle Lofts in Liberty Village, where 20 of the live/work artist spaces are rentals and the rest for sale

Such cases didn’t count as Section 37 benefits at the time, but under the new rules, they would. This would ideally allow more affordable housing to be created.

**** Ideally I would have finished this post in, like, November, but ehhhhhhhhhhh~

***** Who the hell is the affordable ownership lobby? Who’s in their pocket? I really want to know.

****** If your answer is “yes”, 1. fuck you and 2. shouldn’t you be reading Toronto Life?