The Housing Again Bulletin, sponsored by Raising the Roof as a partner in Housing Again.
A monthly electronic bulletin highlighting what people are doing to put housing back on the public agenda across Canada and around the world, sponsored by Raising the Roof as part of the Housing Again partnership.
News for December, 2002
'Where's Home? Update 2001'
Over the last 10 years, Ontario has lost 24, 298 private rental units, at a rate of almost 50 per cent greater than that at which new units were built. London lost over 10 per cent of its private rental stock, Ottawa 6.3 per cent, Peel 5.9 per cent, and Hamilton 4.5 per cent. During this same period, the Canada Housing and Mortgage Company, estimates the number of new households looking for rental accommodation grew steadily.
These are a few of the findings in the ‘Where’s Home?’ update for 2001. ‘Where’s Home?’ is the annual study that provides the most comprehensive picture of the situation of Ontario Tenants in the private rental market.
For more information on the 'Where's Home? Update 2001'
Ontario Liberals Promise Housing Action
In anticipation of the next Ontario election, the province’s Liberals have stepped forward with hefty new housing promises.
Among other things, the Liberals say they will match the federal housing dollars that have been designated for Ontario over the next five years and will repeal the current government’s Tenant Protection Act.
Read more at Housing Again Alerts (click on Nov. 25)
How NDP Hopefuls Weigh in on Housing
As the candidates for the federal NDP leadership move into their last leg before the Jan. 24-26 leadership convention, Jack Layton has emerged as the sole candidate with a full housing platform as part of his campaign.
In his campaign literature, Layton states that Canada needs to build at least 20,000 new affordable housing units each year for the next 10 years and that government can either make that happen directly or create a National Housing Foundation to stimulate housing partnerships.
Layton is no stranger to the issue. As vice chair and chair of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities he organized mayors across the country to put forward a national agenda and was a strong housing advocate in his own municipality of Toronto.
While the other candidates emphasize democratic reform and anti-poverty stances, they have, at best, cursory mentions of the issue in their speeches and campaign literature:
Bill Blaikie is campaigning heavily on his record as a strong critical voice in the House of Commons. His emphasis is on medicare, resistance to corporate globalization and his strong ties to labour, but there’s no real mention of housing.
Joe Comartin has a strong anti-poverty stance and he asserts that the NDP must stand for the principle that every Canadian deserves the opportunity to earn a living wage. He says full employment, without ecological sacrifice, is the surest way to fight homelessness.
Pierre Ducasse emphasizes democratizing the economy and has strategies such as community loan funds at the base of his platform. He doesn’t mention housing directly but talks about ending poverty through citizen participation in the economy.
Bev Meslo is running on a largely anti-capitalist platform. She mentions homeless people as part of the constituency that the NDP should focus on representing.
Lorne Nystrom has a social democratic agenda that says the NDP leadership needs to understand the importance of a dynamic economy that will create jobs and the wealth needed to pay for, among other things, affordable housing.
New Leadership in Vancouver for Housing
Although it doesn’t take the helm until this week, Vancouver’s new COPE council-elect has been up to its ears in the housing issue.
"We haven’t even gone through basic training yet and we are on the front lines," councilor-elect Jim Green told the Vancouver Sun as he scrambled to pull strings and find housing after the squatters, who have been camping outside of the former Woodward’s Department store.
Squatters managed to make the future of the building, which was slated to become affordable housing and then cancelled by the provincial government, a major issue in the city’s mid-November election. They were served with an injunction to vacate their Tent City on the three sidewalks surrounding the building.
And now, as squatter Jim Leyden told reporters, Vancouver citizens have a council that is willing to set up housing.
COPE (short for Coalition of Progressive Electors) won eight of the ten councillor seats on council, as well as the mayoralty with Larry Campbell, Its housing platform promises to strengthen Vancouver’s maintenance standards by-law with a strict deadline for compliance and an incremental fine increase with each repeat infraction; an anti-conversion and demolition control by-law to protect affordable housing; and the legalization of secondary suites, many of which are currently deemed illegal and are under threat of closure even though they represent about 20 per cent of the city’s rental housing stock.
But a city council can hardly begin to address the housing problem on its own. COPE says it will call on the provincial and federal governments to re-invest in social housing. This makes Vancouver a promising force to be reckoned with as the federal, provincial and territorial housing ministers make a date for their next meeting.
For more information, visit the Alerts at: http://action.web.ca/home/housing/alerts.shtml and click on the articles posted on Nov. 23. For more on COPE visit: www.cope.bc.ca.
Community Spotlight: Democratic Decision Making at Toronto Community Housing Company
Faced with a mandate to increase participation among 60,000 tenants at the very moment when they were about to be amalgamated into one, two social housing companies ? Toronto’s Cityhome and the Metro Toronto Housing Company - looked to a model which engaged tenants directly in setting budget priorities.
The first step was for each building in each portfolio to have a meeting and select the top five issues it wanted to see addressed in the budget. Representatives took these priorities to larger community-level meetings where the different issues were sorted and ranked. Tenants then elected representatives from these community-level meetings to sit on a company-wide board and set the budget. Once the budget priorities were set, plans were made for each community and then each building. Plans were then posted in every building and tenant committees meet regularly to ensure they are implemented.
This process was first undertaken in 2001, a process which established budget priorities for 2002 and 2003. The companies have since been amalgamated, along with the Metro Toronto Housing Authority, into the Toronto Community Housing Company, serving 164,000 tenants. TCHC is planning to continue the participatory budget process.
"There is this stigma that people who live in social housing don’t know anything," says Beatriz Tabak, manager of community-based business planning for TCHC. "[During the process] staff learned that tenants know what they are doing and the tenants were empowered."
Anne Burgess, 67, knows the system well. A self-described "proud mom", she single-handedly brought up three children in Toronto’s social housing system. As part of a tenant advisory committee, she helped design the process, served as a community representative and sits on the committee to check that money is spent as it was allocated.
Burgess says it was an unforgettable learning experience for tenants to deal with such a large sum of money and the overwhelming demand. "The number of requests that came forward were equivalent to about $132 million," she says. "We had $10 million to allocate."
What impressed Burgess was how the tenants moved from thinking at a personal level to a community and then to a city-wide level so quickly.
"When you are sitting in your own community, you don’t understand why they don’t fix things or why you can’t have the things you want, such as a new playground. With this budget process, people began to see how limited the funding was and the need for it out there," she said. "It was also good in terms of getting to know and relate to staff at head office. I think a mutual respect grew out of it."
Yet, the process was not without its glitches. Travel across Toronto was difficult for some people, particularly those with children or special needs. Some community representatives didn’t realize what a large time and energy commitment was involved. But Burgess says overall, the problems were minor.
In some cases, tenants were able to turn roadblocks into positive actions. Terrance Henry, 27, lives in social housing with his mother and sister and is on the road every day as a sales and client-support representative for a Web development company. Since his building is home to 300 children, he went to the budgeting forum on a mission to secure some funding for kids’ recreation.
The community lobbied hard but didn’t get the money. Yet the process of organizing and speaking out has sparked some creative alternatives. TCHC staff member Vidoll Regisford helped Henry approach the building’s security company to sponsor some recreation programs. Off-duty security guards, parents and community health promoter Emelda Chapman have run field trips, story readings and baking classes. Henry said he is continuing to "hit the streets" for more sponsorships and the group has caught the attention of their local MPP.
"We had to sacrifice for greater needs in other buildings, but we may actually end up achieving more than we had originally planned," he said.
The model used by TCHC was first used in the city of Porto Alegre, where the local government decided in the 1980’s to open the budget process to its citizens. Now, 14 years after the process started, citizens are elected in 16 geographically and socially distinct sectors, to serve alongside city councillors to decide the city’s budget priorities. This new way of ‘doing democracy’ is influencing how people look at governance worldwide.