Improving the lives of subsidized housing tenants – Professor Prentiss Dantzler partners with Toronto Community Housing

One of the common goals that brings together University of Toronto Sociology Professor Prentiss Dantzler and the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) is to find ways to provide tenants with affordable places to live. Data is needed to understand better the nuanced demographics and mobility patterns of those receiving housing subsidies. Their proposed study, funded with a SSHRC Partnership Engage grant (PEG), focuses on the influence of neighborhood dynamics on the mobility decisions of those with subsidized households. The results will be a detailed analysis of the descriptive and inferential differences across distinct kinds of subsidy programs offered by the TCHC. The benefits of such knowledge are connected to prior research which ties residential stability with greater life satisfaction, civic participation, educational outcomes for children, and positive physical and mental health effects.

In size, TCHC is second only to New York City’s Housing Authority. It is mandated by the Province of Ontario’s Housing Services Act and operates approximately 350 high-rise and low-rise apartment buildings. It also manages units within 106 out of 140 Toronto neighborhoods, including single-family houses and cooperatives, as well as family and senior housing developments. Given the diversity in the assistance programs available through TCHC, data is essential to understand the differences across populations within each subsidy program and their respective neighborhoods. More information is needed to see the clustering of households in higher or lower income neighborhoods and the patterns of residential mobility, particularly because there are currently well over 80,000 applicants on TCHC’s waiting list for housing assistance.

Dantzler is using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies in collaboration with Erin Bradford, a TCHC Business Analyst.  This summer, with help from a PhD research assistant, they will conduct interviews with TCHC residents and administrators to look more closely at mobility decisions and perceptions around housing assistance including housing satisfaction.  Dantzler’s expertise on housing programs in the U.S. provides TCHC with a repertoire of insights into best practices for achieving their shared community-centered goals. For Dantzler, the beneficial results of the research will also include peer reviewed journal articles and other academic outputs.  However, “the real benefit,” says Dantzler, “is primarily to do impactful, engaged work on local issues…to be of service to others.”

Although the pandemic has caused delays in data collecting, some of the timing shifts have led to positive outcomes, for example, creating opportunities to integrate project research activities into undergraduate course work. Students in Dantzler’s Urban Policy class developed a technical report that assessed housing insecurity across the GTA in relation to current housing assistance programs. The report provides future policy recommendations in response to the global urban housing affordability crisis and will be delivered to TCHC by the end of May 2022, just in time for their organizational restructuring over the next several months.  By having the students work on this report, says Dantzler, “I am able to build capacity among our undergraduates to take part in more evaluation and policy-relevant work.”

Another already achieved outcome is the increased interest on the part of TCHC for conducting self-evaluation. A TCHC research advisory group is currently in development to consider the organization’s interests and distinctive needs for data collecting. Given recent findings on racial disparities for evictions across the GTA from the Wellesley Institute, Dantzler is also looking at how to evaluate eviction practices. Dantzler fully supports the TCHC’s goal to improve the lives of tenants living in subsidized housing.

Despite some pandemic-associated delays, the project is still on track to be completed by summer 2023.