London committee turns to city staff to address affordable housing issues

London city officials are discussing affordable housing in the wake of a report on London and Middlesex Community Housing. 980 CFPL

Housing was a hot topic on Monday night as the City of London’s strategic priorities and policy committee discussed a report that presented flaws with London and Middlesex Community Housing (LMCH).

The independent review, prepared by auditing firm KPMG, found LMCH’s performance to be hindered by capacity constraints, “including effective governance oversight and greater-than-normal vacancies within its housing stock.”

Other findings included the fact that an average of 129 homes out of the agency’s more than 3,000 housing units were unoccupied at any given time. These vacant homes would often take more than 100 days before becoming ready to rent, with some vacancies reportedly seeing a turnaround time of up to 300 days.

READ MORE: London affordable housing in the hot seat as scathing report goes before city hall

Larry Ducharme, who serves on the board of directors for LMCH, addressed committee members during Monday night’s discussion of the scathing report.

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Ducharme acknowledged the issues pointed out in KPMG’s review, adding that LMCH is working to lower its vacancy rate and has undertaken a “substantial review” of governance policies, programs and protocols.

Ducharme also spoke about a request from LMCH to amend its shareholder agreement with the City of London — a change that would allow the housing agency to seek other revenue streams outside of municipal funding.

“Simply saying we have a problem and simply saying our assets are in a state of disrepair, with no means of addressing those other than coming to the taxpayer each and every time, it’s the same old, same old,” Ducharme said.

A motion was presented by Ward 9 Coun. Anna Hopkins to have city staff explore the possibility of allowing new revenue streams for LMCH.

READ MORE: London housing agencies seek nearly $500m in additional funding

However, the motion was shot down by Hopkins’ fellow committee members, with Ward 5 Coun. Maureen Cassidy arguing that city staff had already advised against amending LMCH’s shareholder agreement during its report on KPMG’s review.

“I believe what the motion tonight is asking is if staff’s going to change their mind…. we’ve already got the answer to what’s being asked tonight,” Cassidy said.

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Deputy mayor and Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer questioned where extra money for LMCH would go, adding that the majority of cash from past budget increases went toward utility costs.

“If you look at the number of staff, it’s the same so there’s no staff growth, really, in the budget we approved many years ago. I’m not convinced that what is needed is more people, and more people means more money,” Helmer said.

The deputy mayor also advocated for increased communication between partners on London’s housing file, a desire that resonated with Ward 6 Coun. Phil Squire.

“After five years as a councillor, I really have to say no one has given me the clarity that I need to understand the proper approach to affordable housing because I’m not an expert in affordable housing, but I know one thing is money doesn’t solve everything,” Squire said.

“I’m not convinced that anyone has presented the right answer, and that raises fears for me.”

A matter not addressed during Monday night’s meeting was KPMG’s recommendation that the Housing Development Corporation be dissolved and its services transitioned back to the city.

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The report stated the “incremental benefits of [the] HDC as a separate corporate identity may be questionable,” with some services provided by the housing agency seeming to overlap with those provided by LMCH.
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The conclusion of Monday’s committee meeting saw members vote to recommend city staff explore how to address the affordable housing issues outlined in KPMG’s report.

City staff won’t be able to start that exploration until a final decision is handed in down during city council’s September meeting.

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