ONPHA Conference Provides Mixed Affordable Housing Solutions

Outside the Ottawa Convention Centre
I was in Ottawa during the recent 2014 ONPHA Conference attended by housing providers from across Ontario, and where prominent, long time York Region Housing employees were among the honoured and retiring, including Doug Manson who had headed up Y.R.'s residential housing operations, and Sylvia Patterson from Georgina, a long time Y.R. fixture in social housing and services. I had the privilege of working with him personally, assisting with input, and subsequently sitting on, a housing reference group with him.
Ironically, they also gave myself and others a 5 year recognition award for participating in this advisory capacity, A classy move, likely at the behest of Doug Manson, made before he left.

Manson had visited England during his tenure and returned with a strong belief in having more grassroots input and ' ground up" programs and
implemented some of that philosophy, successfully pushing for the creation of a tenant reference board, and subsequently encouraging the formation of housing community tenant groups.

A pioneer in some ways, here especially, and long time supporter of our community development based road hockey program,  it's too bad to see him go.

His photo, and those of others, who were being honoured and retiring, flashed over the big screens, in between the mesmerizing onstage entertainment at the conference ending dinner, a spectacle that really has to be seen to be appreciated including aboriginal drummers and dancers followed by traditional throat singing, a form of which I had never witnessed. CityHousing Hamilton was also singled out for its tenant engagement programs work receiving the 2014 Award for Excellence as well as others such as the WoodGreen's Celebrity Single Mom's program.

One interesting idea that was discussed with me by an attending Hamilton area Paralegal who has worked for both Ontario's largest private affordable housing provider and for Canada's largest social housing providers, who suggested dealing with persons with mental health issues, and in her specific example, hoarders, is a growing problem that needs be attended to, and that they need be dealt with in a fair and dignified manner. Ironically, as I write this, a reportedly elderly hoarder, was killed in a fire over the weekend, highlighting the fact that hoarding can also be a deadly. But what to we do about tenants with specific issues tied to (mental) illness, like hoarders?

According to my paralegal friend - although she wouldn't talk specific cases - you tailor make something. In her past experiences, she has had to evict everyone from gang members to hoarders to those with addictions, and is well versed in both procedure and how to get results. However, too often she pointed out, evictions that can be avoided, aren't.There are affective rent (arrears) collection schedules that can be set up and maintained she claims, and, in the case of hoarders, she has come up with a unique approach, based on her successful experiences in dealing with them.

Her idea travels even further than coordinating collections, going so far as suggesting having mixed housing models - some subsidized, some not, with hoarders being among them in the same building. These hoarders would have to agree to gradually remove their stuff in order to keep / receive their subsidized housing and be encouraged to 'rejoin" main stream society through supports.

"Firstly", she noted, " hoarders' "stuff" means a lot to them, and that is a problem, but not an overwhelming one." If that stuff is important to them, she reasons, it is too much to ask them to just throw it out - but if it were going to someone in need, then they might more easily part with an item. So a charity of their choice could be chosen, or, should they opt for it, a hoarders items website could be set up, or a suitable one used to sell items, with an option to keep all the money or split it with a favorite charity or non-profit.This would act as reassurance that their belongings were going somewhere meaningful and not just discarded.Removal of items would be monitored regularly and their program would also include connecting them to ongoing treatment or support to move forward and decrease the risk of relapse - just like an addiction.

These make great points. Currently our system of supports, in and out of housing, too often are generalized with a "one glove fits all" type of set up which does not work in special cases, cases which invariably end up in tribunals and courts, costing more time and money for everyone involved, let alone adding to the homeless problem.

I would even take it a step further and have buildings with Counselors or Personal Support Workers located in an office in the building for easy communication and access, who could also then easily co-ordinate home visits to follow up with the residents and ensure they are being supported in their goals. Specialized " housecleaning' and general house / apartment maintenance instruction could be incorporated as well, and, in some cases, perhaps ongoing support in that area, need be by a third party source, say for housekeeping for example which may already be available if the person has a certain disability, but sometimes needs a worker to uncover access for them to do so.
When in Rome!

When visiting a unique housing set up in St 
 Catherines some years back, called Bethlehem House and Support Services, they were very proud of their model of soliciting private donations from community members and businesses, proudly displaying their names on their entryway wall after opening an affordable housing apartment complex that mixed seniors with young families on either side, and kept an in-house social worker on site who also did home visits and advised on some basics too, like house-cleaning and personal grooming for some. What they found was that young people helped the seniors and the seniors helped in advising the younger ones! Surprise! Who knew you didn't have to reinvent the wheel!?
Lester T.. More than just the name in common!

It's good to hear that these housing providers are still studying ways to implement better services to lower income resident tenants through conferences such as this - think tanks if you will - conducted outside the stuffy confines of government only directives, and with a unique mix of private enterprise providers, mixed with social housing / government housing providers with the inclusive minded sharing of grassroots projects - resulting in sharing some unique, progressive, " Canadian experienced" ideas.

Let's just hope the next batch to replace those who have just left the fold, continue on looking at effective solutions to housing all our residents, and judging by the inspiring thoughts of but one paralegal amongst a sea of those who may just attempt to evict - it is surely a good sign!

"Ultimately, the landlord has an obligation to try and accommodate a person's disability"
 Ontario Paralegal