The Housing Again Bulletin, sponsored by Raising the Roof as a partner in Housing Again.
A monthly electronic bulletin highlighting what people are doing to put housing back on the public agenda across Canada and around the world, sponsored by Raising the Roof as part of the Housing Again partnership.
News for February, 2004
Community Spotlight: Alberta Realtors Kick in to Help Low-Income People Buy Homes
Alberta Realtors are funding a province-wide program to teach people what they need to know to become homeowners. And, the program includes a fund to give low-income people half the initial five per-cent down payments they need to get a mortgage.
The program started as a sub-committee of the Edmonton Housing Industry forum in 2001. The start-up funding -- $65,000 -- came from the Alberta Real Estate Foundation. The Alberta Real Estate Association then contributed funds to make the program province-wide.
“If people demonstrate to us they want to be home owners we will work with them for as long as it takes -- for one year or 10 years,” he said. “The program is self-sustaining from the realty community that supports it.”
The education part of the program is open to anyone -- at any level of income. The sessions are offered free of charge. People who are at or below the Core Needs Income Threshold established by the Canada Housing and Mortgage Company (CMHC) can apply for a mortgage subsidy once they complete the courses.
Volunteers with the program work with applicants to find ways to increase their income and work on credit problems.
Last year, the program had 133 participants, 22 of whom bought houses. This year, the program has 200 participants. Co-ordinator Brian Finley is predicting 60 people will find houses. The goal, if interest rates stay the way they are now, is to have 1,000 people participating in the program by 2008 and place 500 of those people into houses of their own.
Social Workers Battle Identification Barriers
It was November when Jane Kali and the workers who help homeless people apply for identification started to realize the Birth Certificate applications they were putting out were not being processed by Ontario’s Registrar General. The I.D. workers had a special protocol with Registrar General to get past barriers for homeless people inherent in the application process. For a reason that Kali still doesn’t know, that protocol was suddenly stopped.
She and the other eight I.D. workers had over 600 applications that were backlogged.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the federal government introduced the Permanent Residency Card (PR card) and, on Jan. 1st, it started requiring the PR card from people who wanted a Social Insurance Number (SIN).
For the many of us who have I.D., it can be easy to forget that someone without a SIN card can’t get a job, access employment assistance or training programs, apply for welfare, open a bank account, or access countless other services.
And again, the application process for the PR card is rife with barriers for homeless people -- including a $50 fee and a primary identity document that must be certified by a lawyer.
“No one that we know in Toronto has the financial and people resources to provide this service for homeless and under-housed people,” says Kali. “Of the 20.000 people we serve, 40 per cent are not born in Canada and need the PR card.”
So, the workers at Streethealth had to stop a lot of what they were doing and started sending out mass e-mails to other agencies and coalitions that work with homeless people.
The goal: Bombard the Registrar General, HRDC and Citizen and Immigration Canada with phone calls and e-mails.
So far, it has been working.
Kali heard through the grapevine that at one point government staff members were unable to work on the applications on their desks because they were so busy answering phone calls.
As a result, Streethealth workers met with staff from the Ontario Registrar General’s office and had their original Birth Certificate application protocol reinstated. And, just before The Bulletin’s deadline, HRDC relaxed its SIN card policy to accept Records of Landing as the primary document to secure a SIN number for landed immigrants who came to Canada between June 28th 1973 and June 27th 2002.
“This is good news but we still need to challenge HRDC so that we can assist the 20-30 per cent of people who come to us for help that landed either before 1973 or after 2002.” says Kali.
Social workers have formed two working groups on the issue: one to raise the topic in the media and the other to plan an I.D. forum for the end of February. Kali is encouraging people to raise the issue with HRDC and Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
She invites you to contact her for more information firstname.lastname@example.org.
Toronto Mayor to hold Affordable Housing Summit Feb. 26th
On the heels of convening Canada’s big city mayors to call for more funding from the feds, Toronto mayor David Miller is announcing another summit this month: to address the need for affordable housing. The goal of the meeting is to bring together members of the federal and provincial governments, members of the non-profit, co-operative and private housing sectors, community and business leaders, and affordable housing champions to create an action plan for the city.
To register for the affordable housing forum call Emily Cornies at the Canadian Urban Institute at 416-365-0816 x 236.
Miller has also appointed a Facilitator of Homelessness and Housing Initiatives to create an office of Rapid Housing Development. Appointee Sean Goetz Gadon is a welcome addition, according to Michael Shapcott, co-chair of the National Housing and Homelessness Network, who says the new facilitator has been working on affordable housing issues for almost two decades as both a provincial and municipal officer.
Housing Minister Schmazzle Leaves Next Ministers’ Meeting Date Up In the Air
During its first teleconference call of the year, National Housing and Homelessness Network (NHHN) members checked in with each other to reveal extreme cold weather has hit virtually every city they represent. These are the circumstances that underline the network’s frustration at how the federal government lately has been shuffling around the responsibilities stemming from the promises it has made to create a national affordable housing program.
Canada’s Minister Responsible for Housing released numbers that confirmed the federal government has spent only $88 billion of the approximate $1.3 billion it has promised for affordable housing. He also released a letter he wrote to Nova Scotia M.L.A. David Morse in which he cited increased demands for “concrete actions, particularly with regard to housing that is truly affordable” and called for another housing ministers’ meeting as soon as possible in the new year. Nova Scotia is the next site of the federal-provincial-territorial housing ministers’ meeting. Mahoney and Morse were contemplating February as the date.
But, a week later, Mahoney was dumped from Cabinet. Now, rumour has it that the next housing ministers’ meeting may not take place until June, or even as late as next fall. “Minister Mahoney’s numbers confirm the bleak assessment the NHHN has been releasing in its report cards,” said Michael Shapcott, NHHN co-chair.
Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta are the only three provinces where there has been any substantial affordable housing action. But, says Shapcott, while those provinces have been active in spending money for the federal program, they have been cutting back on their provincial spending on housing.
Shapcott points to a worrisome trend in Quebec, formerly thought of as the star’ province because of its initial momentum to fast-track the building of units funded by the federal program, as well as fully renew its provincial program. Since then, the province has decreased the number of units it will build and has adjusted its definition of affordable housing upward to $800 per month from $350-$500 per month.
The one bright spot is Nunavut, which has matched and spent its entire allocation under the federal program.
After Mahoney was dumped from cabinet, the portfolio was given to David Anderson, the Environment Minister. In response to the outcry from housing advocates, Andy Scott, Minister of State for Infrastructure, was appointed Junior Housing Minister.
Shapcott says the NHHN has been trying for a number of weeks to get a meeting with Anderson and Scott without success. The network is concerned is concerned with the way the government is setting up the next budget. Prime Minister Paul Martin and Finance Minister Ralph Goodale are saying that money will be tight with little wiggle room for social spending.
The NHHN is calling on the ministers meet as initially promised in February to break the logjam that is preventing the flow of the rest of the promised housing dollars and to commit additional federal funding to create a comprehensive national affordable housing program.
B.C. Housing Advocates Hopeful for a Second Phase of Funding from the Feds
Despite a more pessimistic tone nationally, housing advocates in British Columbia are hopeful that their province would move forward on a second phase of affordable housing funding once the federal government picks a meeting date for the housing ministers. The province has a new minster responsible for housing as Murray Coell takes over from George Abbott.
Linda Mix, Coordinator of theTenants’ Rights Action Coalition in Vancouver says advocates are looking forward to the outcome of the next federal-provincial-territorial housing ministers meeting and are eager to get on with a second phase of funding. They hope their provincial government will broaden its target population for affordable housing.
She also said that advocates are heartened by the fact that former B.C. Premier Mike Harcourt has been appointed by Prime Minister Paul Martin to chair the federal “New Deal for Cities” initiative. She says both Harcourt and parliamentary secretary John Godfrey have acknowledged that affordable housing should be an important part of any federal investment in urban infrastructure.
Major Campaign to Bust Language Barriers for Homeless People is Underway
For newcomers to Canada, language barriers can lead to isolation and chronic homelessness.
A comprehensive research report on the subject, funded by the Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative (SCPI) is serving as the basis for an action campaign to lobby all levels of government and target the media to raise awareness and get funds for interpreters.
The project was initiated in Dec. 2001 by the Access Alliance Multicultural Community Health Centre and is supported by shelters, drop-ins, settlement agencies, community legal clinics, community health centers and government departments across Toronto.
The working groups involved in the project have sent out mass e-mails seeking support for recommendations from the study that they’ve outlined in a Fact Sheet. They are also asking people to print out a letter on agency letterhead and fax it to Access Alliance. Campaigners will be sending the collected letters to all levels of government and targeting newsletters and newspapers to raise awareness about language barriers for new Canadians who are homeless.
For a copy of the fact sheet and letter visit
Check Your Listings in the Directory of Organizations at www.sharedlearnings.org and Who’s Who at www.housingagain.web.net
serving homeless and at-risk clientele through your programs?
advocating for affordable housing and programs for homeless individuals and families?
involved in policy responses to homelessness?
Make sure that others across Canada can learn about the work you do. Add your contact information to the Shared Learnings on Homelessness Directory, or let us know if the information we have about your organization needs updating. Shared Learnings on Homelessness is a Web site initiative of Raising the Roof. Join us in building this resource to meet the needs of front-line agencies and organizations across the country.
Go to www.sharedlearnings.org and click on Directory Listings or if you prefer, use our French URL www.liaison-itinerance.org, and look for 'Répertoire d'organismes'.
An individual or organization active or interested in affordable housing and homelessness issues
You are encouraged to add your contact information to the Housing Again Who's Who.