ANOTHER DAY AT THE 2012 ONPHA CONFERENCE

While I may live in Toronto I rarely have an opportunity to explore the co-op and non-profit housing that is scattered across this city. This morning I went on a tour of co-op and non-profit housing in NW Toronto on or near Weston Road. We only stopped at 3 places, but were shown 23 projects that ranged from supportive housing to municipal non-profits to non-profit co-operatives to affordable home ownership sites—approximately 4,000 units in total . It was good to see so many places where people can live with dignity and security in an overlooked area of Toronto. While it is discouraging to see no new affordable non-profit or co-operative homes being build, there is some indication (through various affordable home ownership models) that there is at least new housing coming available for the employed working class. Truly marginalized people hoping for a new home will continue to have a long

While the tour was organised through ONPHA, and therefore the focus was on non-profit housing, four different co-ops were pointed out. We stopped for a while at Beach Hall Housing Co-op, a senior’s non-profit co-op; stopped at the site of a project of Homebuyers Development Co-operative Corporation, a builders’ co-op; had Chord Housing Co-op pointed out to us, an interesting co-op that continues to provide housing for people from diverse backgrounds, including a substantive proportion of families with children facing developmental and/or physical challengers; and stopped at a project of Options for Homes, which supports non-profit builders’ co-ops.

Participants seemed genuinely interested in the different approaching to developing and sustaining affordable housing. Those from various government agencies present did indicate that support for affordable home ownership is their
Priority. The fact that most of the western countries facing major financial challenges have affordable home ownership as a key component of their national housing strategy may be a co-incidence, or perhaps could serve as a warning that depending on a for profit private sector model to deliver essential services is unsustainable in the long term.

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I was surprised that the vendors’ displays were taken down over lunch. I finally had free time and hoped to talk to some possible suppliers.

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Where the workshop’s I attended yesterday (Death of A Tenant; When to Call Children’s Aid) were focused on meeting human needs, today’s addressed corporate needs—The Taxman Cometh; Refinancing the Sector.
I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the level of engagement of most participants—-effective listening and intelligent questions of the presenters.

Chris Lawrence, the main presenter for The Taxman Cometh workshop, raised issues facing all non-profits as the Canada Revenue Agency tries to figure out the non-profit sector. CRA does not know the size of the sector or the number of non-profits, which can range from unincorporated local clubs to housing providers to groups like the CAA to corporate based non-profits. CRA’s motivation is primarily around tax fairness; it is unlikely that housing providers and similar organisations will end up paying taxes under any foreseeable changes. Co-op housing and non-profit housing providers have faced random audits, as have other non-profits. These resulted in information letters that raised concerns. These have stopped; audits and other interactions with CRA may be occurring but sector organisations aren’t aware of them.

It was suggested that CRA may have a draft paper within a year and any changes that will result will occur with normal government efficiency (discussions, lobbying, draft legislation, elections, etc.)—-5 years is likely to be the time frame to changing a section of the act in place since the late 19th century.

Refinancing the Sector was more of a reinforcement of information I already know than a source of new ideas. It was less well attended than I had expected—-perhaps we don’t need as much money as I sometimes think our sector needs.

One of the presenters, Steve Pomeroy, helped St. Clare’s get our first seed money under the long gone Homegrown Solutions programme. Just under 400 units ultimately came into being because CMHC was willing to support experiments in new affordable housing development.

Presenters were David McCarron from Ottawa Community Housing; Steve Pomery, a consultant, and Steve Rohacek from Infrastructure Ontario. Some good ideas were shared, from looking at non-rental revenue to strategies on communicating with existing lenders when refinancing is needed. Ideas were more on refinancing to meet existing capital needs but there were some suggestions on how to finance new construction such as selling existing real estate (housing; land) to finance the construction of new affordable housing units. Links to relevant websites, particularly Infrastructure Ontario, are helpful sources of information. Steve Pomery’ s presentation was especially helpful. The reminder/suggestion as the need for skilled consultants to help organisations to go through the funding process.

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At the end of another day at ONPHA my basic feeling of the convention remains the same. I am an outsider, not part of the masses. I am not at home with pro-profit corporate language. I don’t feel comfortable walking down the halls with those that develop and implement the government policies that are barriers to developing new affordable housing or promote a more competitive, less co-operative and compassionate world. I am even a bit put off by overhearing groups of people in a public space making insulting comments about a member of their group who wasn’t present. It was rare to see strangers talk to each other. At CHF one can’t avoid running into people who never talked to each other before sharing ideas that arose
In a workshop or strategizing about resolutions coming before the meeting; here only a few stay behind to talk to workshop providers and there haven’t been excited conversations outside the workshop rooms.

I am suspicious of the role of elections at ONPHA. Our ballot for the ONPHA board arrived after the deadline for the mailed ballot to arrive. Included with the ballot, though, was a letter which reads in part “Mail-in ballots must be received at the ONPHA office by November 8th to be counted. Otherwise, members may vote in person at the AGM on Sunday, November 18th”. Our ballot arrived after the 8th so I intended to vote tomorrow. As I overheard two candidates today being congratulated for their victory, I am wondering what the purpose of voting tomorrow will serve.

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