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 March, 2004
Community Spotlight: St. John’s Newfoundland Opens All-in-One Youth Shelter and Service Centre
St. John’s, Newfoundland
Social workers in St. John’s are busy making preparations to move three major youth service agencies into a new downtown building that will include an emergency shelter with individual rooms for nine young men. The site will also be a focal point for programs and services delivered through nine other agencies.
It will be located down the road from City Hall, in the middle of a busy neighbourhood with bars, hotels, a stadium and some residential neighbourhoods nearby. The idea for a one-stop youth services agency came from a series of consultations conducted in the mid-1990s that explored what homeless and at-risk youth wanted and needed. At the time, no money was available to develop the idea. Then the federal Supporting Community Partnerships Initiative (SCPI) came along and provided the capital to build the site in conjunction with an emergency shelter for young men.
Choices for Youth is the lead agency which will own and operate the shelter and the multi-service site alongside its current supportive housing program which serves 45 young men and women who live independently in the community.
The concept of mixing so many different services at one location has its challenges. The age range of youth who will access the site is wide -- from age 12 to 29. Sheldon Pollett, executive director of Choices for Youth says the building has been designed so that the shelter has a separate entrance and his agency has a plan in place to address the age range issue.
The agency has secured funding to operate the shelter and money from the three major youth agencies that once went to private landlords can now be pooled to run the new building. There is even enough left over to create a couple of new full-time positions to support current programming and future initiatives.
Services planned for the site include a family resource centre, on-site public health nurses, STD and pregnancy counselling, employment support, addiction services, an alternative school which will develop literacy and other educational initiatives and a mental health program that includes individual counselling, group work and an early intervention program for psychosis.
“The building is a starting point to doing the things about which we once used to say “wish we had the space”, or “wish we had the resources” says Sheldon Pollett, executive director of Choices for Youth. “Young people will be able to identify a place to go and we will be able to be more focused in co-ordinating services and advocating youth issues.”
Proponents of the plan worked hard to combat NIMBYism by going door to door with pamphlets, holding a community meeting, following up and presenting a list of community concerns during the zoning hearing for the centre.
While developing the site, they also did a series of consultations with 120 youth. Suggestions varied from practical -- a place to have a shower and do laundry -- to fun -- a relaxed, safe atmosphere to play games.
“The obvious benefit is that this is a location that really does focus on the needs of young people,” says Pollett.
A New Source of Funding? Environmentalists Push to Extend Energy Efficiency Dollars to Low-Income Housing Sector
Environmentalists are pushing to extend a funding program currently available to homeowners into the affordable housing sector. The program rebates, on average $1,000, to people who retrofit their houses to conserve energy. The retrofits can reduce energy bills by 35 per cent per year. This level of efficiency saves four times the one-tonne challenge’ issued by Ottawa to engage private citizens in its Kyoto commitment to cut down emissions caused by energy consumption.
“There is a nice nexus between what the affordable housing sector is saying and what the environmental sector is saying,” says Bruce Pearce, Vice Chair of the Green Communities Association, Canada’s national umbrella group for non-profit organizations delivering environmental programs and services. “Efficiency is one of the keys to unlocking resources to meet goals in both sectors.”
Currently, the federal energy efficiency rebate program excludes renter-households and there are no assessment tools for apartment buildings.
If the program is extended to include low-income housing, it could help fill holes in the current affordable housing funding available. For instance, the national affordable housing program is geared to building new units. Many of the provinces have expressed the need for funds to upgrade current housing stock. The federal Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program (RRAP) does not currently include a component for energy efficiency retrofits. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Company (CMHC) is looking at amending RRAP standards to include energy efficiency. But, RRAP can’t fully address the need for fix-ups in current low-income housing stock. Energy efficiency funding provides another way to secure upgrade funding. These upgrades would, in turn, improve the living environment for tenants, reduce ongoing operating costs and increase the value of the housing stock.
Low income and social housing are among the worst energy-wasters as governments and affordable housing developers have run on thin budgets and focused on getting the most bang for the buck during initial development instead of longer term return on energy efficiency.
Green Communities is now actively working to build partnerships with the affordable housing sector to put together a proposal that includes details about the design and delivery of an energy efficiency rebate program for low-income housing.
They need stakeholders who understand how such a program could best serve the needs of those who deliver affordable housing and those who live in it. So far the group will be on the agenda at the next Canadian Housing and Renewal Association congress and have engaged the interest of staff at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, who want to bring the issue to their board. The group is looking for support from CMHC and municipalities for a national consultation on the issue.
There has already been a pilot project done in Toronto. The City’s Atmospheric Fund along with environment assessor Green$aver audited 100 houses owned by Toronto Community Housing (TCHC). The group then did retrofits on the worst offenders. The result, according to Green$aver General Manager Kier Brownstone was a reduction in base heating requirements by about 40 per cent. Not only were the costs cut, says Brownstone, but the retrofit addressed a number of tenant complaints including drafty rooms, indoor air quality problems, uneven heating and excessive moisture.
Philip Jeung, technical specialist with TCHC’s capital planning division says the company spent $5 million on the retrofits and expects the savings to pay back that investment in seven years. The TCH has decided to roll out the program to the 1,000 houses in its portfolio.
The Atmospheric Fund has $500,000 available to rebate homeowners for energy efficiency retrofits. Forty per cent of this is set aside for low-income homes.
The City also chipped in with a subsidy of about $60 per unit for the TCHC to replace its old toilets with new ones that use less water. This subsidy covered one-third of the cost. TCHC has also included energy efficiency in the request to developers it put out for the renewal of Regent Park, Canada’s largest and oldest social housing project.
Sanmugam Balasingham, who has served many years as a tenant representative on TCHC councils and committees says another key component to energy efficiency in low-income housing is tenant participation.
“Tenants become a part of the program because [the housing company] makes them a partner to the management. This gives us a sense of responsibility,” he said.
Balasingham added that the company could go even farther and give tenants more authority. He has suggested a monthly meeting between tenants interested in building maintenance, custodians and superintendents. So far the idea has been accepted in principle but has yet to be implemented.
For more information or to indicate your interest in a national energy efficiency program for low-income housing e-mail Bruce Pearce at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ontario Ombud Urges Government to Change Tenant Protection Act
After reviewing numerous’ complaints on behalf of Ontario Tenants, the Ombudsman is urging the Ontario government to redress the balance’ in the Tenant Protection Act.
In a letter to the minister of Municipal Affairs, ombud Clare Lewis writes that while the Tenant Protection Act may be more administratively efficient, he has concerns that this efficiency may have been at the expense of fair process. He points to the fact that tenants, who are being evicted, have only five days from the time the landlord has filed the notice of hearing to dispute the eviction.
The Toronto Star reports that since June 1998 to the end of 2003, a total of 267, 018 households have faced eviction for rent arrears. About 60 per cent, or 158,565 households were ordered evicted by default -- which means they did not reply to the tribunal within five days of the eviction notice.
“The default eviction process has resulted in large numbers of individuals being evicted without mediation or a hearing on the merits,” writes Lewis. “I am particularly concerned that such evictions may have disproportionate and oppressive consequences for vulnerable tenants: seniors, single parents with small children, individuals with disabilities and those for whom English is a second language.”
Kathy Laird, legal director for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, which has been heavily involved in raising the issue with the Ontario Ombud, says she is very pleased with the letter from Lewis. ACTO is concentrating on advocating that the government remove the default eviction process.
“The sums of money involved are quite small -- around $700 is the median amount for which people are evicted,” she said. “If people are given time, they can often make those payments.”
Laird added that no other provincial legislation has such a short period of time for appeals.
The new Liberal government is on the record with promises to repeal the Tenant Protection Act and to create a provincial rent bank to help tenants with short-term arrears. It has attached a time frame to these promises and Laird says it is now preparing for public consultations. ACTO expects new legislation in the fall.
Social Housing a Possible Election Issue as Paul Martin Meets with FRAPRU
It started out as a demonstration and ended in a meeting with the Prime Minister.
Quebec’s Front d’Action Populaire en Reamenagement Urbain (FRAPRU) was demonstrating at Jean LaPierre’s nomination meeting. LaPierre, Martin’s political lieutenant in Quebec, mentioned housing as a priority in his speech and said he wanted to meet with the activists.
The meeting went ahead last week with the pleasant surprise that Paul Martin himself decided to attend.
Newspapers covering the Liberal government’s sponsorship scandal say meetings such as this are a device to detract attention away from the more negative news. But activists are heartened by the attention to their concerns.
“Paul Martin said he wanted to make social housing a priority -- not affordable housing, but social housing,” said Lucie Porrier, spokesperson for FRAPRU.
Martin questioned the advocates on the feasibility of social housing. Porrier said the Prime Minister had no promises for the next budget but that he wants to include social housing in his next election platform with a five-year commitment.
The second thing the advocates discussed with the Prime Minister was the fact that $320 million was announced for the national housing program in the last federal budget but the money is frozen and has yet to be made available to the provinces. Martin said he wasn’t aware of the problem but would look into it.
FRAPRU will meet with LaPierre in the next couple of weeks to discuss the Liberal platform.
“I’m very encouraged,” says Porrier in the meantime. “What [Martin] said shows us a real possibility that the federal government will commit to social housing. We have to keep up the pressure. It is possible to be heard.”
Raising the Roof launches Hidden Homelessness Awareness Campaign
Every community in Canada has homeless people, even if you don’t see them on the street.
Raising the Roof is taking this message to the Canadian public with its Hidden Homelessness campaign. The campaign is a series of public service announcements that will run on television and in print. It is designed to help Canadians better understand people who are affected by homelessness and to encourage Canadians to become involved in solutions in their own communities.
The ads are supported by a Web site http://www.hiddenhomeless.ca that provides viewers with additional information about homelessness and a checklist of things they can do to help.
Raising the Roof is asking affordable housing advocates that if they notice the television campaign is not being aired in their community, to contact the local television station and to introduce this public education initiative. Raising the Roof will happily provide a copy of the public service announcements to any stations willing to help support the campaign by airing the ads.
The campaign has three sponsors: Direct Energy, ecentricarts inc. and Grey Worldwide.
A French version of this campaign will be launched in the very near future.