THOUGHTS PART WAY THROUGH THE 2012 CHFC AGM

Its Friday evening. The CHF Ontario Regional Meeting, the Meet the Candidate’s meeting, even the Staff Networking Lunch is over. I’m having the luxury of quiet time, looking out the window of my hotel at Niagara Falls.

Coming to the CHF AGM is truly coming home to me. I have been coming to the CHF AGM for half my life. I have watched the movement grow when there was a government housing programme that supported the development of new co-operative housing and was there when there was the transformation to a movement where sustainability is a priority. When I first got involved there were lots of people in leadership that remembered the Co-operative Housing Foundation of Canada prior to its transformation to a national grassroots movement and its rebirth as the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada. Now there are people in the movement leadership who weren’t born when I moved in Don Area Co-op. Co-op housing members remain a tapestry of idealists and pragmatists and cynicists and dreamers and somehow continue to welcome me into their midst.

Those that know me know that going to informal social gatherings, even something with a bit of structure such as a reception for overseas visitors or municipal and provincial housing officials, is incredibly stressful. They can be a migraine trigger and certainly drain me. Yet at the CHF AGM I find that I can spend time at such events before they become overwhelming. Somehow even my normal aversion to social gatherings is abated in the company of co-op housing people and I can last up to an hour before it overwhelms me.

Yesterday I managed two receptions—-one from municipal and provincial housing officials from across Ontario, and one for Rooftops Canada visitors. The evening before I attended the welcome reception for first time attendees. I can’t manage this in my private life but somehow the co-op housing movement is a buffer between myself and the world.

Over the course of today I shared information on unionising with co-op housing staff at a staff networking event, attended the Meet the Candidates meeting and then the CHF Ontario AGM. In all these events there is a formal reason for me to present, making them far less stressful than the social part of the AGM.

The staff networking lunch was good. It was encouraging to spend time with those that share in the difficult task of ensuring that the ideals of living in a co-operative housing community are brought to life while ensuring plumbing works, rent-geared-to-income programmes are properly administered, government reporting is done, housing charges collected, member disputes are resolved and units are made ready for move-in in a timely fashion. A large number of those that came to the networking lunch belong to co-op staff associations; there are some that are in unionised workplaces. There is a different form of solidarity, based on shared experiences, that is really noticed at the CHF AGM when co-op housing staff come together. Out of this sharing come ideas for training, for practical support and for effective ways of making sure our co-op communities are sustainable for the long term.

The Meet the Candidates session was not as intense or rushed as in some years. This is likely due to the few people running for contested positions. By the time of the AGM the CHFC regional directors were all elected and the three at-large and the staff association representative to Ontario Council were acclaimed. This session was shorter than in some years, with the 3 candidates for the two CHFC at-large director seats being the only ones required to present their qualifications to the voters and face questions on their skills and visions for the sector. What stood out for me were two questions—there was a question asking on what the co-op housing movement could learn from the occupy movement and one about whether the national co-op housing movement would be open to all the expressions of co-operative housing (equity, co-housing, building co-ops and not just non-profit housing co-operatives) as part of ensuring the sustainability of the sector. It is encouraging to hear members who see the co-op housing movement as being connected to wider movements and having other forms than many in our movement realise. All the candidates are committed to ensuring the long term viability of the movement and for the development of new co-operatives, on working on the ongoing renewal of sector leadership and finding ways to be relevant in an increasing hostile world.

The later part of the afternoon was spent at the CHF Ontario AGM. This was my last one as a member-at-large of Ontario Council. I continue to be disappointed at how few resolutions come from the members—there are always concerns at the local level that the larger movement needs to be aware of and in the debate and exchange of ideas on resolving matters of a local nature can be found creative ways to meet the needs of our movement as a whole. But I also continue to be inspired by those that come to the meetings—-the diversity of the world in one small place. There was the honouring of co-op staff with 5, 10, 15 and 30 years of experience (I was among them with 15 years experience), an honouring of the life and work of Dave Robertson of the auditing firm Prentice Yates and Clark, a series of straw poles on the makeup of CHF Ontario Council and, substituting for the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Kathleen Wynne, an address by the Minister of the Environment and former Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Jim Bradley. There were no major announcements from the Minister but rather a promise to continue to support the work of co-operatives and a commitment that eviction law reform will be a priority of the fall sitting. The Minister did agree to take questions but only three were permitted prior to the Minister needing to leave. One unasked question that would have been interested to hear a response to was a suggestion that a “Use it or lose it” approach to urban property be used to obtain land and buildings for new affordable housing. Towards the end of the meeting the new Ontario council was introduced, including me in my new role as the CHFC Ontario Regional Director (which sits on both CHF Ontario Council and the CHFC Board of Directors).

It is now evening. I have a cup of Irish Breakfast tea to my side. Tomorrow’s CHFC AGM awaits me. Time to myself in the midst of a chaotic work is a rare gift and I am embracing it.

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