Social housing, ‘uploading’ discussed at DSSAB meeting

Peggy Revell

Social housing and provincial “uploading” were two of the many things on the agenda at the Rainy River District Social Services Association Board’s monthly meeting last Thursday.
Board members were given a presentation by housing manager Dianne Faragher and maintenance worker Rick Bliss about how, following the departure of previous tenants, the social housing units are prepared for new tenants.
The DSSAB oversees 297 units from the public housing portfolio and roughly 100 for direct property management. The type of housing ranges from bachelor units and one- and two-bedroom units to two-, three-, and four-bedroom homes.
After a tenant moves out of the housing, all the unit’s locks are replaced to make sure all possible entry ways are secured, Bliss explained. Inspections of the units then are carried out, looking at things like the walls, floors, windows, taps, and other areas outlined on the Unit Inspection sheet, marking down what needs to be repaired.
Any damages to the unit are assessed on another form.
Staff also remove any furniture or things left behind by tenants after confirming that they aren’t wanting to return for it, added Bliss, noting that in some cases, they’ve had up to five truckloads of furniture, clothing, and other things that needed to be removed.
Following the inspection, custodians will start cleaning, such as washing walls, and stripping the floors if needed, repair drywalls, prime and paint the walls, and fix and clean things as needed. After a final assessment, the units are turned over to Faragher so new tenants can be brought in.
After seeing some of the “before” photos of the units, DSSAB vice-chair Valerie Pizey inquired as to whether it has damage deposits or anything similar.
“I mean, cleaning up the garbage, and having to wash the dishes or whatever, it seems to me that we should have some way of charging a tenant back for this work,” she noted.
“At this point . . . we don’t have damage deposits like the private industry may,” explained Faragher. “But what we do do is, based on Rick’s inspection, he’ll determine what’s tenant damage specific versus normal wear and tear, and that amount does get charged back to the tenant.”
She noted the DSSAB’s eligibility review officer has been very successful in taking care of this aspect.
Concerning those tenants who have caused damage, Fort Frances Coun. Sharon Tibbs asked if they are ever rented to again.
“The process is they’ll have their damages put on their tenant ledger. It will also go on an arrears database across Ontario,” replied Faragher. “So we are not renting to them, as well as throughout all of Ontario.
“What we do is we do a check prior to having them rent again, and that needs to be paid off.”
While private renters don’t have access to this database, Faragher said if social housing is called as a reference, the information would be shared.
“I just want to thank all the social housing and people that work there, because . . . it’s like a 180-degree [turn] since this time last year,” noted Rainy River Mayor Debbie Ewald, who chairs the social housing committee.
“And I really commend them on the work that they’re doing,” she added. “They’re going above and beyond, and I think it’s making a real difference.”
In other news, CAO Donna Dittaro addressed the board regarding the open house at the newly-renovated DSSAB office back on Nov. 14, which she called “very successful.”
“We were really pleased to see the mayor from Fort Frances, and at least three, maybe four councillor members come, the CAO from the town,” noted Dittaro. “And we did receive a lot of very positive feedback from the mayor in terms of his pride in having such a nice building on Scott Street.”
Other visitors included people from different service providers around town, including Family & Children’s Services. Four people even made it all the way from the Queen Street Manor in Emo, added Dittaro, which was something positive considering the weather that day.
Also last Thursday, DSSAB was given a presentation by “Ontario Works” manager Shelly Shute and manager of finances, Leanne Eluik, concerning the provincial government’s plans to “upload” that program.
Announced Oct. 31 following the Provincial-Municipal Fiscal and Service Delivery Review, the province plans to gradually upload funding for “Ontario Works” from municipalities to the province gradually between 2012 and 2018.
This change will see the funding for “Ontario Works” shifted away from the municipal land tax to the provincial income tax, noted Shute. But there is no change in service delivery responsibilities, so municipalities will continue to deliver the program.
But administration costs, currently split 50/50 between the province and municipalities, will not be affected, Shute explained. There also will be no change to the cost of administration cost-sharing formula.
Currently, those involved with the provincial review have agreed to form a working group over concerns in funding administration costs, and their recommendations will be presented as of January, 2010.
Following a motion by the board, the meeting for December has been cancelled.
And finally, board member Jim Belluz questioned Dittaro about the DSSAB’s hiring procedure.
“Typically what happens is, if it’s a senior management position, we will typically go to the chair first of the committee,” said Dittaro. “For example, if we were replacing the ‘Ontario Works’ manager, we would go to Linda Armstrong, the chair.”
“Lots of times, what happens though it’s who is available,” Dittaro added, saying that then another board member on the committee will be asked.
“I think that should be addressed in our procedures,” Belluz noted, suggesting this exact process be written into the Human Resources policies. “It should be spelled out exactly how you’re going to do that.”
DSSAB chair Michael Lewis suggested that since the HR policies are expected to be presented to the board soon, this was something that could be looked into at that point.