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Governance overhaul may be what’s needed for London affordable housing: report

A London and Middlesex Community Housing apartment building at 241 Simcoe St. in London, Ont. Google Maps

A new report headed to city hall suggests London should conduct a governance overhaul of two affordable housing agencies in order to deal with issues highlighted in an independent review published last month.

The late August review, prepared by auditing firm KPMG, took aim at London and Middlesex Community Housing (LMCH) and the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), a pair of housing agencies that have shareholder agreements with the City of London.

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

Other data on LMCH found that an average of 129 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, the review said.

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KPMG also questioned the benefits of HDC operating as a separate entity, noting that its existence may bring increased financial risk to the city and that its services are likely to overlap with those of LMCH.

The review also found a lack of back-office integration and communication between the city and its two housing agencies.

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In light of KPMG’s findings, city staff are now presenting city council with three options that may offer a solution to London’s housing issues.

The first option would see city council appoint all 15 of its members to take over the board of the LMCH and the board of the HDC. Currently, Ward 13 Coun. Arielle Kayabaga and Ward 7 Coun. Josh Morgan are the only councillors serving on the LMCH board. There are no councillors on the HDC board.

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With the first option in place, councillors would assume control of the boards’ powers and be tasked with solving the housing issues detailed in KPMG’s report.

The second option is similar to the first but would only see a third of council appointed to the boards for the housing agencies. These councillors would be still be tasked with the same problem-solving responsibilities.

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The third option — and the one recommended by city staff — would have one of city staff’s own appointed to serve as the board for LMCH and the HDC. The appointed civil servant would then develop a team to help them resolve the agencies’ issues.

The governance overhaul would only be in place on an interim basis, before a council-approved long-term leadership decision can be made for the agencies.

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The report from city staff also includes a long-term action plan whose goals include reducing the average turnaround time for LMCH’s vacant housing units and increasing overall tenant satisfaction.

City councillors will have their chance to debate the suggestions when they meet as a committee on Monday.

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The report from city staff comes after council deferred the issue back to staff during council’s meeting last month.

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