Despite shooting, new public housing chief says Toronto 'not like Detroit'

July 18, 2012

A month into his new job as chief executive officer of Toronto Community Housing Corp., Eugene Jones had to race to the scene of one of the largest mass shootings in Toronto history, which took place at a TCHC complex near Morningside and Lawrence Avenues. Fresh from his last job as head of Detroit's public-housing agency, Mr. Jones spoke to The Globe and Mail about the differences between Detroit and Toronto and why he tours TCHC properties in the middle of the night.

The mayor said earlier today that Toronto is a safe place. It's not like Detroit. Having just come from Detroit, did this incident make you think of the city you just left?

No. [Toronto is] completely not like Detroit.

Do you see similarities in the social housing situation in Toronto and Detroit?

Well yes, we have bad social housing in Detroit just like we have bad social housing in Toronto. But it's not indicative of crime or anything like that, we just have the same type of housing.

You've been here for about a month now. In other cities you've worked in, have you ever seen any incident with this many people shot within a public-housing complex?

Never. Never. Not 23 being shot and two people being killed. Hopefully I won't see it again.

So what do you think can be done to ensure you don't see it again?

Just keep working with local law enforcement ... programs for the youth in our community is a part of that solution. We encourage all levels of government to continue to invest in these programs and we want the business community to get more involved through partnerships.

Do you think TCHC should act just as a landlord, or does it also need to be a social worker?

We just want to make sure we provide decent, safe and sanitary housing in all our social housing. We have issues just like anyone has issues in the community. There's always social issues in any type of neighbourhood. We just want to address our core business.

Do you think having youth workers on the ground makes a difference?

We do currently have youth workers and I commend them. We have youth mentors at most of our properties and we're trying to shore that up so we put more [workers] out there so we get better results. They've been doing a great job.

In your previous jobs you were fairly well known for going out with police at night into some of these communities. Have you done that in Toronto yet?

I sure have. And I'm going out again tonight [Tuesday]. I'm going to be walking the neighbourhood that had this unfortunate incident. I'm going to make sure that I support my residents, be visible. They can ask me questions. If there's issues I need to address I will do that. I also want to support my staff who have to manage that property who have gone through a traumatic experience.

What other neighbourhoods and buildings have you been to see?

There's been so many I couldn't tell you. I have 350 properties and I've probably been to between 50 and 75 sites already.

What was your initial impression of the properties on these early tours?

They look great. Some of them need extra capital dollars and so forth. But the properties are well-maintained based on the research that we have.

The mayor keeps referring to Toronto as the safest city in North America. Given what happened Monday night, do you think that's helpful?

I still think it's safe. I really do ... in Detroit you can't walk down Woodward Boulevard at 4 p.m. in the afternoon. So yes, I think Toronto's very safe.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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