by Stéphane Giguère

“Something old, something borrowed, and something new”; a legacy of experience, learning from others and embracing opportunity.

I’ve been asked to provide some highlights of how Ottawa Community Housing seeks continuous improvement and stays on top of its game. In this context, my role as CEO is to work as a catalyst, to ensure excellent tenant services, improve existing housing stock, and develop additional homes. Optimizing staff knowledge, innovation and leadership are key factors to OCH’s success.

Here are a few examples of what is most important for the affordable housing community to know about OCH.

With 15,000 homes and over 32,000 tenants, we have taken advantage of multiple development opportunities, since the days of Limited Dividend housing in the 50’s and before senior governments provided any significant funding to create homes with subsidized rents. By being creative and repurposing funds from earlier developments we were able to develop or acquire close to 225 homes since 2003, when development of new stock was reduced to a trickle.

Highlights of our achievements include:

  • measuring and seeking to improve tenant’s experience of satisfaction with their homes, communities, and our services;
  • negotiating a portfolio wide operating agreement with our service manager, bringing consistent and stable funding across the portfolio;
  • developing a 10-year Strategic Plan;
  • undertaking a comprehensive Index Building Condition Assessment that positions OCH to advocate for and receive infrastructure funding;
  • implementing a Portfolio Management Framework that provides a blueprint for the future to guide and maximize OCH’s physical and financial resources;
  • renewing the portfolio of homes that do not meet portfolio management requirements and reinvesting in new housing with improved design and maintenance efficiencies;
  • preparing “shovel ready” projects to allow us to respond to development and improvement programs quickly;
  • implementing a long range financial strategy: leveraging our assets through debt financing to ensure financial sustainability. From 2011 to 2015 OCH borrowed $114 million through debt refinancing and contributed $ 69.9M to the capital reserve fund without adding to annual debt servicing costs;
  • negotiating a municipal tax exemption resulting in a $3M annual increase in capital reserve contributions;
  • creating a community reinvestment fund, reducing dependencies on external sources and facilitating the development of new housing;
  • introducing new housing management and financial systems to enable evidence based decision making and to support a client-focused and results-oriented service;
  • establishing a green plan with dedicated funds  to lead the implementation of a more ecologically friendly approach and enable OCH to be innovative and gradually transform its operations and portfolio towards building more sustainable communities, promoting energy conservation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (for example: 16,000 toilets were replaced reducing maintenance requirements and generating $5.5M in cost avoidance annually; fluorescent lighting is currently being replaced by LED);
  • developing partnerships that support tenants and OCH communities in a more holistic way with a variety of on-site agency support resource centres, community houses and, currently, the development of the Carlington Community Resource Centre Health Hub which will enable construction of 42 new homes for seniors; and
  • growing a robust corporate volunteer program that results in over 5,000 volunteer hours annually that beautifies our communities, increases positive public awareness, and enhances the lives of tenants.

Over the years we have incorporated a culture of continuous improvement and framed it with vocabulary such as intentionality, accountability, and engagement. The success of OCH depends on many factors; key among these is dedicated and motivated staff, tenant involvement, and participation in maintaining safe and healthy living environments.  We will continue to support and encourage initiatives and partnerships that enhance tenant participation in making our communities places people are proud to call home.