Notes for Affordable Housing Workshop panel at Canadian Unitarian Council – AGM
Session F4 – Monday, May 23, 2011 – 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
89 Chestnut Residence & Conference Centre
Toronto, Ontario

St. Clare’s Multifaith Housing grew out of Toronto Action for Social Change, seeing in the development of new housing a logical continuation of demanding that society effectively address the problems of poverty and homelessness. Since 1998 we have developed 173 units of affordable housing, have a project of 190 units just beginning occupancy and another 20 unit project expected to have occupancy by labour day.

We work with over 2 dozen organisations that provide referrals from people whose only real commonality is the need for decent and affordable housing. Those we house range from refugees to members of Canada’s first nations, from seniors to homeless youth. Our newest project, at 180 Sudbury, also includes artist live/work studios and a substantial number of market rent units, market being no more than 70% of the CMHC average rents for the area.

We have been the target of sustained opposition to our work—not from immediate neighbours but from people who believe in Not in Anyone’s Back Yard. Indeed, our allies have included neighbours of our projects. We build into our timelines and budgets OMB, Divisional Court and Court of Appeal hearings as opposition to affordable housing is almost inevitable given the mandated expectations of community consultations. The opposition we have faced argued against affordable housing due to claimed impact on existing communities. Jane Jacobs and the strong community movement have much to answer for as the NIMBY movement is strongly influenced by their urban vision. For our conversion projects at 25 Leonard and 138 Pears we established Community Liaison Committees once we obtained funding, an effective way of having our housing initiatives become part of a neighbourhood.

St. Clare’s has received substantive funding from all levels of government for construction and for most of our RGI subsidies. We also depend upon donations, primarily from religious orders and faith communities but also from foundations, corporations, individuals and a few unions. We traditionally have provided at least 10% direct equity financing but our 25 Leonard Phase 2 required substantively more as we drew upon our accumulated equity from 25 Leonard Phase 1 and 138 Pears to help fund the project. On more than one occasion we received loans and bridge financing from The Canadian Alternative Investment Co-operative—which for over 25 years has done social investing for Canadian faith communities. CAIC’s support has been essential for our work.

St. Clare’s does not provide direct support. A condition of receiving RGI funding under the Social Housing Reform Act is that such assistance is to be provided to those who can live independently with appropriate supports. St. Clare’s does not have the resources to provide support. Instead we partner with a number of agencies, co-ordinated through Family Services Toronto, to provide services for their clients who have been referred to St. Clare’s and which also provide programmes for our tenants.

St. Clare’s faces the same challenges as all non-profit housing providers—insufficient revenue to do everything we’d like to do, problems finding new leadership that share our founding vision, a lack of a permanent funded commitment by all levels of government to develop new affordable housing, the ongoing toxic residue of Jane Jacobs and the awareness that whatever we do isn’t enough.

Our success is a surprising one—by the end of this year we will have developed 383 units of affordable housing and we want to build more. We have converted existing buildings and have done new construction. We didn’t know what we were doing when we began but found people, like Jon Harstone, who provided the skills to bring our vision to life. We began demanding that the state build housing and ended up weaving together the resources to build affordable housing at a time when it barely makes it onto political agendas.


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