Category Archives: Urban Stresses

Quick Thoughts Arising from Black Lives Matter and Pride.

For many of us our privileged status could disappear tomorrow; for some such status may never come about. Black Lives Matter and Idle No More raised the later reality into current political debates. It is important, though, for many who think that the issues raised by Black Lives Matter recently and Idle No More a little while ago will never affect them to think again. There is both an idealistic and a selfish reason to work for a truly just and egalitarian society for all. A little bit of reactionary social change and suddenly privilege can disappear. Real solidarity now, radical transformation now, is in the interest of most of us.

During my activist years I learned about a number of very obscure laws, such as Unlawful Handbill Distribution, or that criminal charges and harsh bail conditions can be imposed for such crimes as drawing peace symbols on the pavement of Nathan Philips Square. I was a pretty obnoxious activist and drew police attention as a result. The right skin colour, a real address, a union card in my pocket, etc. did not stop me from learning that police power is all too often arbitrarily exercised and that privilege is not permanent. Stepping back into safety is something available to people like me, but that safety is precarious. I don’t take it for granted.

A lot of the criticism I come across in regards to the tactics and timing of Black Lives Matter and similar groups comes from people who seem to forget what it is like to not have a voice or to be always on the outside or always having to hide something about yourself in order to fit in or to be safe. While there is a rush in the movement of confrontation, if there was an easier, faster and better way to transform the world those methods would be chosen. The social vision that Black Lives Matter raises is key for a better world for all.

The demands raised at this year’s Pride were practical, material and achievable. They move us to a place where more of us are included and, eventually, one where everyone is welcome. I may feel shielded by my social status today, but that could change all too quickly. By challenging privilege, and hopefully pushing aside privilege, they will help create a better world for me. Black Lives Matter doesn’t speak for me; I don’t speak for them. But I support what they want to achieve and the tactics they’ve chosen. My future depends on it.

CO-OP EVICTION LAW REFORM – A STAFF PERSPECTIVE

NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT PRESENTATION
EVICTION LAW REFORM – STAFF PERSPECTIVE
FRIDAY, JULY 17TH
STANLEY KNOWLES HOUSING CO-OPERATIVE

For those who don?t know me, I am the co-ordinator of 43rd Housing Co-op and have been for 17 years. Celia Chandler will be doing the bulk of the presentation, helping us to learn more about the practicalities of eviction under the new system. I’ll be talking briefly about what is has been like from a staff perspective to deal with the transition.

I’ve been working in the sector for almost 20 years, having worked at three co-ops over the years. I did not get involved to take away housing from people, but to help develop and provide long term affordable housing. Taking away housing, which is what we do when we evict someone, is hard to do and something I find emotionally draining.

43rd Co-op is an acquisition rehab co-op. There are still a few tenant households, people that were given the choice of co-op membership or remaining tenants when the co-op was formed 20 years ago. Effectively we have been using the new eviction model the entire time as the tenant eviction process is the model for the the new process. Historically the tenant process involved three steps—an initial notice, filing a 2nd notice with the tribunal, and going to the tribunal—the later including strongly encouraged on site mediation to reach a settlement prior to a hearing. The co-op process involved three or more steps—the initial notice to appear, the board meeting, serving a notice of the board decision, a possible member appeal, filing for a court hearing and a court hearing. In either case, if the judgement went in favour of the co-op, the sherriff’s office would be scheduled for a formal eviction. The tenant process took approximately 2 months; the co-op options 4 to six months. For arrears matters involving tenants I was able to do all the work. For tenant behavioural evictions and all co-op matters co-op lawyers would do the bulk of the work. With tenant evictions I was the focus of any frustration or anger from the tenant; with co-op member evictions the board was the focus of much of the dissatisfaction but I was still the audience for it. Members realise that different boards have different priorities, seen in offers to settle or the offering of reasonable repayments when the board was seen as more hard line. Getting memorandums of settlement approved by some boards was also problematic.

After co-op eviction law reform the process for co-op eviction has come close to matching the tenant process—-a notice to appear, a decision by the board, a possible member appeal, filing of notice with the tribunal, with a two part tribunal hearing process. The time period seems to be two to three months. The legal costs are lower than going to court. It feels that boards are now more likely to want to proceed to eviction than in the past—perhaps due to lower costs and a clearer process or perhaps hard times are leading to higher arrears and causing more stress in households which leads to more behavioural concerns. Our by-laws haven?t all been brought up to date, which can be problematic if members expect a particular process or to forms to be a certain way based on their familiarity with the old model by-law. It does seem that boards are accepting mediation around arrears more readily with the tribunal system, which is a real plus.

In regards to dealing with member arrears, I have found the new process easier to understand and use, thanks primarily to good sector lawyers who have provided clear guidelines. The process is straight forward and getting to enforceable agreements is quicker, helping to both address arrears and to help avoid evictions. I am still unclear about behavioural evictions—there are different forms and options for non-arrears evictions and there are still some matters that need to be dealt with through the court process. It would be good if the behavioural by-laws contained little more than ?Do not offend others. Do not be easily offended.? 43rd has started the behavioural eviction process but not gone to the tribunal or to court as other resolutions were implemented. Having a new process for eviction may be giving co-ops motivation to reconsider many by-laws addressing behaviour that have been passed but never court tested. Tribunal decisions could help guide such discussions.

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.

THOUGHTS ON LANGUAGE AND SOCIAL CHANGE

At a recent awards night I attended I was repeated annoyed by the comment “I’d to thank”.   Each time I heard it I wondered why they didn’t thank the person they felt some gratitude towards. Saying something like “Mother, thank you for all the encouragement and support you gave me along the way” would be far more meaningful than saying “I’d like to thank my mother”.

I am finding that, as I age, the way language is used becomes more important. Nuanced statements have more attraction. Militarist and sports metaphors detract from arguments being raised to promote solutions to social problems. Corporate values, expressed in the arguments of grassroots organisations, alienate me. Having been formed in the time of inclusive language and plain language, at a time when activists did not use the arguments and language of opponents but chose to use the language that reinforced social transformation, I find myself lost in a world that makes less and less sense as the years go by.
Housing is not an investment, it is a right. Education is not an investment, it is both a right and a process. Movements for a better world have been co-opted; we have chosen to advocate the values of a less inclusive, compassionate world in the way we describe ourselves and our goals.

Progressive movements have lost momentum for a number of reasons, but part of this is due to giving ground on the language we use when engaging the world. Clarity of language is important; equally important is having the words we use help to bring into practical expression the ideals we hold. Building a co-operative world is not strengthened by promoting competiveness when we talk about the co-op model.

Thoughts after the dismantling of Occupy Toronto at St. James Park

In December of 2008 the majority of the members of the Canadian House of Commons, in harmony with parliamentary tradition, came together with the proposal for a coalition government. Instead of either listening to the voice of the majority of the elected members of the Canadian government and calling upon Stéphane Dion to form a new government or requiring Steven Harper to call for a vote of confidence by the House of Commons, the governor general of Canada prorogued parliament. When the house resumed sitting, the coalition became mute. For me, the idea that there was any possible value to electoral politics ended that day. When the majority of the House of Commons could not determine who was prime minister, parliamentary democracy was injured. When the majority of the House of Commons accepted this, the possible value of voting became meaningless.

I have voted since then, but only for individuals with whom I have worked with outside of electoral politics. It would have been nice to have had them elected, but it wouldn’t have resulted in a better world.

Low voter turnout may indicate that a large number of people have also come to feel that it is not important to participate in a process that has become symbolic rather than meaningful.

When the Occupy movement came to life and, more specifically, when it appeared in a place about 15 minutes walk from my home, I became immediately encouraged. In a time of political cynicism and barely responsive elected officials people from diverse backgrounds came together to talk and raise questions. Specific demands were less important than the exploring of ideas and possible options. There were points of clarity—a real desire for inclusive political processes, efforts to bring into the Occupy community the marginalized who (with the exception of OCAP) have historically not been too welcome within social movements, respect for opponents, the need for people centred economic structures. The Occupy movement came into a politically and emotionally empty void.

The vicious attacks on the movement, whether in the media or in places by the police, have not been a surprise. Public dissent is rarely welcomed, even more so when it actually is unique. An effort that can gain support from the Paul Martin’s of the world as well as those charged with conspiracy for their participation in the G20 protests is a rare and potentially truly radical, truly turning the world upside down.

I hope that the state supported attacks on the Occupy movement don’t end it. I hope that it doesn’t disappear into the many private spheres but finds a way to be a physical present in our towns and cities. As someone who finds little to support in traditional politics I may be expecting too much from the Occupy movement. But it has been a true beacon of hope for me. Somehow in the midst of all the social, economic and political ills, when police violence against dissent is displayed across the internet if not in our recent personal memories, people from faith communities and unions, homeless people and co-op housing activists, people with drug and alcohol issues and small business owners, students and veterans, libertarians and Liberals…a phenomenal diversity of life experiences and social visions have found a shared expression in our common community spaces.

I go to sleep with the memories of watching my union brothers helping to take apart a physical statement of an desire for a better world and with the knowledge that a member of the clergy who had seemed surprisingly and wonderfully supportive of the camp at St. James banning participants from Cathedral property. This does not sit easy with me.

But I also go to sleep knowing that I am not alone in wanting the seeds planted in the Occupy movement to grow. This will help keep the darkness at bay.

THOUGHTS ON THE OCCUPY MOVEMENT—TWO MONTHS IN

First, as a personal observation, I have found the people at the Occupy Toronto site hard to deal with unless one has good social skills and can easily start conversations with strangers. During all my visits it has only been people that know me that have come up to me to talk, share stories and memories, etc. I get friendly nods but I can be at St. James Park for a long time before someone (and, again, it is always people that know me) stops me for a chat.  I can’t be the only person coming by that wanders through who feels uncomfortable in groups and informal settings. For those at the Occupy site, I do encourage you to welcome the stranger among you.

When I wander through and observe what is happening at St. James Park and read about what is happening elsewhere I am always pleasantly surprised. It is all too rare for those who are homeless, addicted and otherwise marginalised to be seen, let alone integrated into a broad effort to transform the world. Yet, from speaking at general assemblies to sharing food to having a fairly safe place to rest, the Occupy movement has been a phenomenal example of inclusiveness. It is not perfect, but it is in many ways closer to the shalom kingdom than most faith communities.

I have been excited at the use that St. James Park has been put to. From having community speakers to being a base for marches, at last there seems to be in Toronto a truly public square. The state provided spaces at Queen’s Park, Nathan Philips Square, Dundas Square, etc. have not proven to be welcoming places. Yet a park that is built on the site of a cholera burying ground has proven to be a living and dynamic place.

I am angered and frightened that elected officials seem to have the popular support to stop public usage of a shared resource. Mayors and city councillors have taken what should be a welcomed change—large number of publically and peacefully politically engaged people—and labelled the movement a danger. Courts in Canada seem all to willing to put aside the ideal of public assembly. The police seem all to willing to use excessive force to put down dissent, noticed in Toronto at the G20 and around the world when people gather in the public squares. I can understand why the state and corporate interests want to hide away dissent; wants to hide away homelessness, addictions and mental health challenges; wants to use violence against current protestors to discourage future ones. However, as one dependent on the media for information, it is easy to develop the opinion that oppression is a very popular political option. This angers and frightens me.

This week a 28 year struggle for pay equity was finally won. If it takes over a generation for one victory to occur, why is there impatience with a few weeks that the Occupy movement has been a part of the political landscape? Social change takes a long time. Progressive movements need to be a part of the ongoing social fabric. Ending the Occupy movement, even transforming it by taking it into local meetings, having small scale neighbourhood actions and becoming a part of the private meetings and backroom lobbying of traditional social movements, will be a real set back for the work for positive social transformation. Currently there are places in cities and towns around the world where there is a clear statement that not only is something wrong but there are alternatives to be considered. The commons have been communalised but around the world, from court injunctions to brutal physical force, the Occupy movement is under substantial threat.

I hope that I will continue to have the opportunity to feel a stranger in the midst of the Occupy Movement. Come tomorrow the courts may rule that the City of Toronto can take down the camp in St. James Park. With the state and corporate interests driving the Occupy movement out of public spaces and having significant popular support to do so, it is hard to feel confident that a wonderful public expression of hope and anger will continue to be a public witness.

GENERAL THOUGHTS ON CAPITALISM

An economic system that is inherently sinful is hard to accept.   A system where wealth is generated through paying workers less than the value of their labour and charging customers more than the value of the goods and services is inherently unethical.    And yet phenomenal numbers of people of faith and from across the political spectrum either gladly support capitalism or accept it as an inevitable and eternal, even if they personally desire a more equitable and egalitarian system..

There are apologists for capitalism who complain about capitalism– the price of gasoline; the quality of cell phone services; the treatment of passengers by many airlines; discrimination in hiring; workplace injuries—who see such things as aberrations rather than capitalism functioning properly.  It is an expense to provide comfortable seating or effective technical support or decent working conditions and costs need to be minimised.

Support for the excesses of capitalism seem to be growing.   Attacks on trade unions, public interest organisations and other organised responses to injustice and exploitation have widespread and vocal public support.    Efforts to undo generations of progress in workplace health and safety, pay equity, environmental standards, food safety, safe drinking water, public transportation and accessible good quality health care are being eroded.   On-line comment sections of the media are filled with hateful attacks on public servants and public sector unions.   There is wide place resistance to the rise of unfettered capitalism but often not in the public eye.

I wonder if the reason capitalism is in resurgence is that progressive forces have been content to try and tame capitalism, rather than abolish it.    The ideas of a mixed economy, of regulated competition, of corporate social responsibility and other efforts to reshape capitalism haven’t made it into a friend to all humanity and a gentle presence on the planet but yet these ideals have been expressed by many, myself included, as ways of helping to address the worst aspects of capitalism trying to move things in a more positive direction in the long term.    Like apologists for Stalin, the crusades or the militarisation of the concept of jihad, we apologists for capitalism have much to answer for.

The resurgence of capitalism is happening in South Africa and in Toronto, in China and in Devonshire.   It is one potential expression of Think Globally Act Locally.  A profitable corporation thinks locally by threatening to move a factory if labour and environmental standards aren’t weakened.  It thinks globally by moving wealth away from those that create it into massive private accumulations.

I am angered by corporate greed; I am saddened by people of faith who justify it.   I look at my scriptures and see a preferential option for the poor, a call for sustainability, community and compassion.   I can’t make the leap to the view that capitalism is compatible with Christianity.