Ottawa – the seat of Canadian Government. So, I got to meet with a plethora of movers and shakers from the Canadian housing system – not least the folk in the photograph from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (many thanks to Glenn and Jane for setting that up) – responsible for delivery of the Canadian National Housing Strategy.
Referred to as the NHS (hmmm – hey Canadians – for us the NHS is the National Health Service) – it’s “to be determined”. That’s not a bad thing. The Canadian Federal Government has been out of the housing game for some years. There’s learning to be done – and it’s worth seeing what gives.
There’s the NHS itself – and its centrepiece $7 billion Coinvestment Fund launched at the end of 2017. It’s ambitious – setting challenging outcomes relating to affordability, accessibility, environmental sustainability and inclusion. It’s got teething problems – and some would say that the Federal Government is making it up as it goes along. But providing it works with the housing sector and other levels of Government to do that – that seems like a good thing. It feels like the forward thinking and outcome-based approach it involves – and which is being delivered by some of the co-operative housing developments I have seen along the way – is what is needed. It has the potential to drive a coach and horses through housing strategies that in some cases have become mired in history.
The other big debate seems to be about how they subsidise housing costs for low income people. And that’s also “to be determined”. Historically this has largely been through direct subsidy to housing providers with minimal rent assistance provided directly to low income tenants through some (if not all) provinces. I don’t pretend to understand the full nuances of this, but my perceptions are that these subsidies force housing providers to go cap in hand for Government subsidies and doesn’t engender a culture of self-reliance. For the public purse it is unsustainable and so they are now exploring a portable housing benefit, but the historical mixing of incomes in communities lends itself to market-based approaches cross subsidising homes for low income people.
I’m happy to report from my discussions with several sectoral bodies in Ottawa that – despite my perceptions in Toronto – partnership working does take place – on many levels – in several provinces (BC and Quebec were particularly highlighted) and in several municipalities (Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver were examples I was given). In fact, it would seem that – despite the co-operative housing sector being the smallest of the three affordable housing sectors – alongside the municipalities and the not-for-profits – it is seen as an equal and important partner in developing housing strategy. Theoretically the not for profits are the equivalent of our housing association sector – but the comparison is startling. I met with the largest – Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation – owning and managing some 2,000 homes, but with ambitions to grow (but they – along with everyone else I have met in Canada think that the scale of our housing associations is much too large). CCOC’s whole ethos screamed community and mutuality and it is held in high regard by people from the co-operative housing sector.
There’s not enough space in this blog to go through all the acronyms of the organisations of the people I met with – so I’m just going to say many thanks to Jeff, Graeme, Celine, Steve, Alexandra, Tim, Glenn, Jane, Dawn, Karine, Rachelle, Alex, Sugan and Matt for meeting up with me! And to Nicholas for general commentary!!!
And, of course, in Ottawa I also met with housing co-ops. Well – when I say met – I only actually met with Elke and Keila from Alex Laidlow Co-op and Lynne and Colin from the prospective seniors Limited Equity Co-operative – Convivium. But I saw 38 others (well I think it was 38 – I lost count around about 30) courtesy of the wonderful Celine’s magical bus tour. Somehow Celine – from regional co-op housing federation CHASEO – managed to make every one of the co-ops we saw interesting – but even she was flagging a bit towards the end!!!
And finally – a big big thanks go to the wonderful Julie from Co-op Housing International for putting me up – for a lot of general co-op housing discussion – for making my stay in Ottawa exciting and quite a lot bonkers at times – and for kidnapping me into the wilderness for a weekend of camping, canoeing, swimming, hiking, scrabble and lots of mosquito bites!!!