Co-ordinator, 43rd Housing Co-operative, Toronto
Executive Director, CoAction Staff Association, Toronto
President, St. Clare’s Multifaith Housing Society
President, Canadian Alternative Investment Co-operative
Treasurer, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, Ontario Region
I want to thank the members of this committee for the opportunity to share a few thoughts on the proposed Bill 140. I am speaking as an individual who has lived in a housing co-operative since 1984 and have devoted decades of my life to working and volunteering in the co-operative and non-profit housing sectors. In the few minutes I have I’m aware I can only touch on a few areas of concern, the first two of which may echo or reinforce ideas already touched on by other presenters.
I share the concern raised by representatives of The Ontario Non-profit Housing Association and the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, Ontario Region, in regards to the need to strengthen provisions for an independent review of disputes between housing providers and local service providers. There was an arbitration clause in the previous provincial operating agreements which, during the 18 years or so of these programmes, was never used but was there in the event that there was a serious and seemingly irresolvable dispute between parties. An independent arbitrator, rather than going to court, is a fairer and less costly method of bringing parties together to address problems than is litigation.
I also share the concern raised by representatives of ONPHA and CHFC-Ontario Region that there needs to be strong legislative protection of the existing housing stock. While attention seems to have been focused on the fear of the future of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation portfolio, I am also concerned that there are individual housing co-operative members who would like to sell their co-operatives at the end of operating agreements either to themselves at below-market rates or in the open market with any surplus revenue generated going to those who were members when the co-operative was wound down. The existing affordable housing communities need to continue to be a resource for future generations to benefit from and strong legislation needs to be in place to preserve it. Without it, the risk of significant loss of affordable housing stock is all too real.
I was very pleased to see in the draft legislation a requirement for long term planning to address the problems of homelessness and the lack of decent affordable housing for all. This is a major step forward and deserves praise and the resources for this to fully unfold. Funding needed to meet the costs of participating in, and implementing, the development of a local strategy to address multi-faceted housing problems. Stakeholders need the resources to properly participate in any discussions and the results of such planning need the resources to be brought to life. Without sufficient finances being in place for meaningful participation in the planning process and for the recommendations to be implemented one of the few truly visionary legislative initiatives I have seen in my lifetime will not succeed.
I was also pleased to note in the proposed legislation the recognition that community based housing, both non-profits and housing co-operatives, are acknowledged as being part of the solution to housing and homelessness in Ontario. Too often the role of individuals and small groups coming together to share their resources and visions to address social concerns is overlooked. We get involved in our local initiatives to address the needs we see in our neighbourhoods. Having our role acknowledged is really important. In the long term, as resources become available, I hope that true partnerships come about between the province and local grassroots housing initiatives.
My second last comment comes about from my personal experiences living in a federally funded co-operative and co-ordinating a co-op funded under Jobs Ontario (now an SHRA co-op). There needs to be recognition in place that acknowledges the difference of co-operatives from all other forms of affordable housing. Federal co-ops have more autonomy in terms of member selection, electing their boards, setting their budget and in long term planning that those governed by provincial legislation and agreements. Initiatives that are not a significant issue for non-profit providers such as centralized waiting lists or maximum rents/housing charges are issues for many co-operative members. If non-profit housing co-operatives can’t easily fit into provincial frameworks, perhaps Ontario can do what the federal government has done with co-ops in Ontario that were under their jurisdiction and transfer responsibility for them to the Agency for Co-operative Management.
My final comment is a plea for those who are homeless or marginally housed, who depend on food banks, who are on Ontario Works and would benefit from an extra $100.00 month food allowance, who are here in Ontario and can’t find a permanent job with decent benefits, who are in physical danger in their own homes, who are both visible and invisible in their need. However the discussions on the way social housing is administered in Ontario is resolved, the reality is that for too many people there is no place they can call home. We need to remember this reality in our policy discussions and addressing their reality, a reality which could all too easily become our personal reality, needs to be the guiding purpose to the work we are sharing in today.