March 13, 2014

Olivia Chow and the co-op housing controversy

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:44

In the Toronto Star, Bob Hepburn looks at how about-to-be-declared mayoralty candidate Olivia Chow will handle the renewal of the accusations that she and Jack Layton were living in subsidized co-op housing (despite earning very high salaries) in the late 1980s:

Chow fully expects to be under constant attack from Ford Nation fanatics and the more vocal supporters of candidates John Tory, Karen Stintz and David Soknacki as a “tax-and-spend” downtown New Democrat who is supposedly out of touch with middle-class and suburban voters.

But the nastiest attacks will centre on a 1990 story about how Chow and her late husband Jack Layton were living cheaply in a subsidized downtown Toronto co-op housing building designed for low- and moderate-income families.

Chow and Layton’s combined income at the time was about $120,000. The rent on their three-bedroom apartment was just $800 a month.

Because the story is now 24 years old, many of today’s voters have never heard of it. Others, though, have a long memory, are still furious about what they call “a scandal” and won’t let it die.

“You mean the Queen of Public Housing, sponging off of the taxpayer,” one reader emailed me last week after I wrote a column about how Chow was all set to enter the race. “I would call that theft,” he added.

“What annoys me about her is how righteous she can be,” a female reader wrote yesterday after Chow had resigned her federal seat, referring to Chow’s background fighting on behalf of the poor while at the same time having lived in housing predominately meant for lower-income families.


In June, 1990, the Toronto Star published a story inside the paper, not on its front page, about how Layton, then a city councillor, and Chow, who was then a public school trustee, lived in a three-bedroom apartment at the federally subsidized Hazelburn Co-operative at Jarvis and Shuter Sts.

At the time, Layton earned $61,900 a year as a councillor plus $5,000 as a University of Toronto lecturer. Chow earned $47,000 a year as a trustee. One-third of their salaries was tax-free.

Their annual income was double what was considered as a “moderate” family income in Toronto. Provincial co-op housing officials said they knew of no other couple in Ontario living in a co-op unit whose income was as high as Chow and Layton’s.

It may have been a “manufactured” scandal, but it certainly tainted Layton’s image in local politics and it’s no surprise to find that Chow’s opponents are eager to bring the issue back to the public debate. Colby Cosh is probably right here:


  1. The article was in “The Star”? That explains a lot. Is a scandal a still asmear or “manufactured” if it’s true?

    Comment by Bill — March 13, 2014 @ 22:14

  2. It’s both a floor polish and a dessert topping. It certainly wasn’t illegal. It was, however, politically tone-deaf (odd for such a politically astute fellow as JACK!).

    Comment by Nicholas — March 14, 2014 @ 08:22

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