Retirement didn’t last long for Brian Smith, who late last year concluded his 36-year career as the president and CEO of WoodGreen Community Services. Less than a month into the new year, he’s been tapped to serve as a member of Mayor John Tory’s new task force on the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC).
The six-member Housing Task Force, which will be taking a closer look at the governance and repair issues at the city’s social housing corporation, also includes Senator Art Eggleton; TCHC tenant representative Muna Mohamed; former TD Bank CEO Edmund Clark; Oxford Properties CEO Blake Hutcheson; and University of Toronto professor Janet Mason.
“Governance is a big issue. It’s important to make sure the oversight and operations are meeting the needs of the city and the tenants who live in the housing,” said Smith, who made the time to chat with The Mirror while in London, England, attending his son’s wedding.
He said the task force will be preparing an interim report by this summer.
“I think it’s a really important piece of work that will be done,” he said.
“Hopefully we can avoid the politics and focus on the business of the corporation serving the people of Toronto and the tenants that live in it.”
Smith, a native of the Beach who has lived in the city’s north end for a number of years, lauded Tory for being pro-active on working to improve Toronto’s social housing system.
“I give the mayor high marks for taking this on off the bat because it’s such an important issue,” he said.
“I feel quite pleased that some way I might be able to contribute to making Toronto a great city and place where all can benefit and live safe and have decent housing.”
Smith, who was approached by Tory’s office earlier this month to take part in the task force, said he’s looking forward to helping better an organization he called a “tremendous resource for the city.”
“Brian Smith has many years of experience as a specialist in non-profit governance and the management of housing developments through his extensive work at WoodGreen Community Services for 36 years,” Tory said. “This expertise and his advocacy work for policy changes to allow social service agencies to better serve vulnerable populations will be an important asset for the housing task force.”
Tory went on to say that while some recent progress has been made on the housing file, fresh eyes are needed on how the city tackles this challenge.
“I have full confidence the diverse group of individuals, including Brian, on the housing task force will bring real solutions to the table on how we can bring better governance, service and value for money at Toronto Community Housing,” he said.
Having worked for more than three decades to eradicate poverty and help marginalized individuals secure safe, affordable, quality housing, Smith was instrumental in the transformation of Riverside’s New Edwin Hotel into First Step to Home, a residence for homeless and street-involved men.
He also spearheaded WoodGreen’s innovative Homeward Bound program, which provides a range of services to help inadequately housed or homeless mother-led families earn college diplomas, start careers and achieve economic self-sufficiency. The program’s residence in East York being renamed the Brian Smith Centre for Opportunity.
Further, Smith’s unwavering dedication to eradicate poverty and provide marginalized individuals and families safe and affordable places to live has been forever honoured with Brian’s Fund to End Homelessness (http://www.woodgreen.org/briansfund.aspx). The fund was launched on Wednesday, Dec. 3 during Smith’s retirement celebration at Whistler’s Pub.
Prior to working at WoodGreen, Smith was a social worker for the Catholic Children’s Aid Society then the executive director of St. Stephen’s Community House.
The new housing task force is set to meet for the first time tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 30. The first step will be to establish the terms of reference for the task force and determine the direction it will take.