The 2012 ONPHA conference is now a moment in history. I feel tired and drained. I don’t have the bounce of hope that I leave a co-op gathering with, but I do have a few more skills to draw upon and some confidence that there are people in the world trying to build a better world and a better movement even if the formal structure they work in is more of a civil servant network than an alliance of affordable housing visionaries.
The oddest memory is going into a workshop and having the workshop leader state that she remembered me from being arrested together at the Queen’s Park Plant-in. TASC and ANVA types seem to have found homes in many movements, but co-operatives and affordable housing have attracted the most.
ONPHA does have an idealistic streak, but it is hard to find within the corporate language and imagery. ONPHA members house the hardest to house, run shelters, offer RGI housing and afford able market housing in rural areas and provide municipally run housing in the largest cities of Ontario. In our conservative climate it isn’t much of a surprise when the leadership tries to talk the language of corporate insiders. Yet, while community orientated activists have adopted the language of the powers-that-be, there was a change in the language of the dominant economic culture. Corporate leaders are talking about community, environmental sustainability and social investing. Some reflection brought me to the point of considering that, just like corporations talking about environmental sustainability or their employees are valued stakeholders hasn’t resulted in changes in corporate practices, ONPHA using the language of business may not result in changes in their practices. With a dominant portion of its membership and leadership from municipal non-profits, it may be immune from having to make real change.
I heard ONPHA described as a mature organisation. This is used to explain why the actual business portion of the gathering is scheduled for one and a half hours on a Sunday morning during which the annual report, the audit, the election and any resolutions submitted by the board or membership is dealt with. Members don’t take advantage of a provincial meeting to raise issues they felt urgent for the movement or of local importance they wanted province wide feedback on; rather, except for a few questions of the annual report and a couple of routine questions of the audit, the AGM was a quiet affair. In my immature way, I’d like to the AGM to have more motions from members and harder questions posed to the leadership. To me, a quiet AGM indicates an alienated membership.
ONPHA continues to offer good resources and excellent workshops, but it operates a level very remote from those that live in the homes ONPHA members offer or the dreamers who came together to develop community housing in the first place.