Random draw gives thousands a shot at 75 affordable units in Toronto

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Leslie O’Reilly sits in front of a computer, looking at a spreadsheet that will impact the lives of at least 200 Torontonians.

The housing consultant, who works for the city’s shelter, support and housing administration, conducted a “random draw” this week along with representatives from Toronto Community Housing, to allocate 75 affordable units to individuals and families in the city.

Leslie O'Reilly runs the housing draw as Richard Marshall video records the process for transparency. The City of Toronto and Toronto Community Housing held the draw allocating units in a new Regent Park building through a random "computer generated scrambling system."
Leslie O’Reilly runs the housing draw as Richard Marshall video records the process for transparency. The City of Toronto and Toronto Community Housing held the draw allocating units in a new Regent Park building through a random « computer generated scrambling system. »  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

TCH received 3,779 expressions of interest from households and individuals and a total of 2,773 of the applications were complete and eligible.

The one, two and three bedroom-units in the draw — 21 of which cater to seniors — will be available at 110 River St., a 29-storey TCH building set for occupancy in February in the redeveloped Regent Park neighbourhood.

There are 96,828 households with active applications for social housing according to information from the city of Toronto collected from a central waiting list. That includes 33,728 applications for seniors.

TCH put a wide call out to the public for expressions of interests in the units, and applications were accepted from Sept. 4 to Oct. 3.

Then, the TCH created an Excel document for each of four categories — 1 bedroom, (seniors) 2 bedroom, (seniors) 2 bedroom (mix of tenants of all ages) and 3 bedroom (mix of tenants) and a random number generator assigned a number to each application, explains O’Reilly, who conducted the videotaped draw at a TCH satellite office on Jarvis St.

The database was later sorted smallest number to largest to create an “offer list” of eligible occupants for the units. The applicant with the smallest number will be offered the first unit.

And when it was all over, at least 200 Torontonians were set to get some good news soon that they’re eligible to secure an affordable place to live in the city.

The monthly rent — utilities included — will be $962 for a one bedroom, $1,141 for two bedrooms and three bedrooms are $1,358.

These units are not subsidized, unlike most TCH units — 90 per cent of which are subsidized/rent-geared-to-income. The agency, which provides housing for 60,000 low and moderate-income households, also has about 5,000 market and 1,000 affordable units.

To qualify as affordable, the rents don’t exceed 80 per cent of the average market rent established by the city of Toronto and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

In Toronto, the average monthly market rate for a one-bedroom apartment is close to $2,000.

The winners of the draw aren’t necessarily guaranteed a unit, said Sanja Arpadzic, a TCH manager for operational initiatives, program services and asset management. They must first pass screening that includes income testing, credit card checks, and landlord references.

In order to be eligible to live in the River St. units, the annual before-tax income of all members in the household can’t exceed four times the annual rent of the unit applied for.

“Some people are going to be very excited when we contact them,” Arpadzic said in an interview after the draw at her Jarvis St. office Wednesday.

Members of her staff will now be reaching out to the winners by email and telephone.

The winners will have to reply soon. If TCH doesn’t hear from them in a few days after the emails and calls go out, the agency will reach out to the next eligible person on the randomized list.

Those who refuse a unit have their name removed from the list for 110 River St., which stays in place for two years.

“These 75 units provide an opportunity for families and seniors to access clean, safe affordable housing downtown in Regent Park, a community that is being revitalized into a vibrant, mixed-income, mixed-use neighbourhood,” said TCH spokesperson Bruce Malloch.

In early March there was a similar draw for 59 affordable units spread among two TCH housing buildings — one at 50 Regent Park Blvd., the other at 21 Tubman Ave.

The names of the winners aren’t released publicly.

Donovan Vincent is a housing reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @donovanvincent

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Lawyers catch a whiff of trouble for K9 drug units adapting to new pot laws

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As legalization looms, K9 units across the country are facing a problem: their dogs are outdated.

Drug-sniffing dogs undergo training from a very young age to be able to detect a wide variety of drugs, including cannabis, which will be legal in Canada on Oct. 17.

And while some have been forced into early retirement, many will remain in their jobs, raising questions for legal experts concerned that law-abiding citizens might be stopped and searched by police based on an alert for a perfectly legal substance.

Some organizations said they’ll be totally unaffected by legalization. Since crossing the border with cannabis will remain illegal without a permit, the Canadian Border Services Agency said all their drug-sniffing dogs will remain in the same role.

“Through its programs and services, the CBSA will continue to uphold laws governing the illegal cross-border movement of cannabis, while facilitating the free flow of legitimate people and goods,” spokesperson Jayden Robertson said in a statement.

Even in forces that are adapting to legalization, change will come slowly.

In January, the Winnipeg Police Service’s (WPS) K9 unit added Ivy, a 20-month-old Belgian Malinois, to its roster. Ivy got all the regular training except cannabis odour detection. But all 14 WPS canines, all of whom except Ivy are trained to detect cannabis, will continue working until the end of their careers, the WPS said — instead, change will be grandfathered in as new dogs won’t undergo cannabis training.

Since the Calgary Police Service (CPS) said “nearly all” of their searches initiated by drug-sniffing dogs involve a previously obtained warrant, they’ll be keeping theirs too. Drug-sniffing dogs are also used at traffic stops, the CPS said, albeit rarely.

Sometime this fall, the CPS Canine Unit will employ dogs both with and without cannabis training.

“This will allow flexibility in a variety of investigative needs,” the CPS said.

The RCMP said it has prepared for legalization by training a new crop of drug-sniffing dogs over the summer who only detect illegal drugs, to be used for traffic stops and interdiction work.

The current crop of 14 dogs in those roles, spread out across British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador, will all enjoy early retirements.

But those dogs only make up 12 per cent of the RCMP’s total canine force. The vast majority of “general duty” dogs will remain in place with their current training.

“There will still be offences related to cannabis, such as the unlawful sale or distribution of cannabis, including its sale or distribution to young persons, and the unlawful possession, production, importation and exportation of cannabis,” the RCMP said in a statement.

This is where the law could get fuzzy, experts say.

Toronto cannabis lawyer Paul Lewin said it was “ridiculous” that police forces plan to keep their cannabis-trained dogs.

“It’s absolutely pointless. It’d be like a tomato-detecting dog,” he said. “[The dogs] aren’t going to tell us if it’s illicit cannabis. The dogs aren’t trained that well. The dog won’t know how much cannabis is there. I’m baffled.”

When cannabis was illegal, police had reasonable grounds to search a person if a dog smelled cannabis on them. Now, Lewin said, though cannabis-related offences will still exist, the waters are muddied.

Since dogs don’t distinguish their alerts based on specific drugs, police won’t know whether a dog is alerting them to the presence of fentanyl or a joint.

Toronto cannabis lawyer Harrison Jordan said he expects to see court challenges where dogs alert their handler for the presence of a drug that turns out to be legal cannabis, and the cop finds a different illegal item, like a handgun — will that charge hold up in court, since the initial search was for a legal substance?

“It really depends on the reasonable grounds that they have,” Jordan said.

For instance, most provinces will allow police to search a vehicle if they believe the driver is carrying cannabis in an open container — similar to open container laws with alcohol — but police generally can’t just search every car at a RIDE stop checking for impaired driving, Jordan said.

In any case, Lewin said he expects to see many cases where “false positives” are tested in court.

“The Charter frowns on searches for no good reason,” he said. “There’s really some serious rights at stake here.”

To make sure you stay on the right side of the law as much as possible, make sure your cannabis stays fair away from airports and border crossings, Jordan said.

“Don’t try to take your stuff out of the country, or into the country, because that’s where you’re most likely to encounter a sniffer dog,” he said.

-With files from The Canadian Press

Jack Hauen is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @jackhauen

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