Author Archives: 83tjf

VisitAbility as a minimum standard of universal design

by Roger P. Gervais

It’s been a pleasure to participate in Broadening the Base (BtB) and to work with such a wonderful group of individuals, who also acknowledge the importance of improving our affordable housing stock in Ottawa. I recently posted on my blog about the evidence that supports a transformation in the way we build new housing — one that removes architectural barriers in order to make them safer, more welcoming to all, and more sustainable.

As you can see from the evidence I’ve shared, VisitAbility as a minimum standard of Universal Design is gaining momentum domestically and internationally. It’s important to also ensure it’s done attractively to correct the myth that it’s ugly or institutional-looking.  There are a number of design websites that showcase beautiful Universal Design features, such as Houzz.com, so it’s not a matter of figuring out how to do it, it’s simply a matter of replicating best practices already out there on websites, social media and magazines.

As you noticed in the municipal section of my blog, I gave credit to Ottawa’s affordable housing sector for moving forward with accessible and VisitAble units, ahead of building code and other provincial requirements. It’s this type of courage and innovation that has increased our stock of affordable housing,welcoming everyone, and showing respect for human rights.  Our homes/dwellings have a significant emotional and financial value so it’s important to expand on the minimum requirement of 15% VisitAble units in the Ontario Building Code, like Ottawa’s Affordable Housing Unit has done. We need to ensure new affordable housing doesn’t exclude the growing number of Ottawa residents who need safer and more inclusive dwellings.

I look forward to the other blog posts and the first Open House for projects that BtB will be collaborating with. It’s an exciting time in Ottawa!.

 

Making collective impact on the affordable housing problem

by Gina Grosenick

Over the past year, various funding organizations including the McConnell Foundation and the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) have introduced programs to encourage wide-spread adoption of the collective impact approach for addressing critical community problems and achieve large scale social change.

As identified in a seminal article written by John Kania and Mark Kramer, collective impact “is the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific problem, using a structured form of collaboration” (Stanford Social Innovation Review, 2011).

Collective impact is premised on the belief that deeply entrenched, complex social problems cannot be solved by individual organizations, or even sectors, acting alone.  Instead, a deep and broad collective of individuals and stakeholders working towards a common agenda and acting in concert can make meaningful and large-scale impact on important issues facing our society.

The theory of collective impact identifies five conditions for success.  The first is that there is a common agenda among all stakeholders, which includes a shared vision of what the problem is and what the vision for change should be.  The second condition is that data and results are collected and measured consistently among all stakeholders.  The third is that all activities of stakeholders are coordinated within a central plan of action.  The fourth is that there is consistent and open communication within the collective.  Finally, fifth, that there is a “backbone organization” and/or a core group serving as the coordinator of the collective and its activities.

The Broadening the Base (BtB) initiative was formed before and without knowledge of the theory and opportunities of collective impact. Yet, as an initiative it directly aligns with the values and characteristics of the approach to address the complex issue of the lack of affordable housing in Ottawa.  Recognizing that a solution would be untenable without widespread stakeholder support, the BtB founders actively pursued the “not the usual suspects” to contribute to the initiative. To date, BtB has been successful in engaging stakeholders from the business, non-profit, academia, government, affordable housing, social justice, housing development, finance, social impact financing, philanthropy, environment, communications, community engagement, grassroots advocacy, legal and religious sectors to the effort.  The shared vision and approach of the initiative was developed through active consultation in the form of open community meetings with stakeholders.  The central plan of action that emerged and that stakeholders are working towards is to identify new tools, mechanisms and partnership that will catalyze an increase and diversity of affordable housing options in the city.  BtB continues to model open and consistent communication through email newsletters, community meetings, and through our website (www.btbottawa.ca) and twitter account (@btbottawa).  The core team and coordinator act as the backbone support for the initiative, coordinating activities and sharing knowledge across the stakeholder group.

Since learning about the approach, BtB is proud to identify as a collective impact initiative and has undertaken activities to increase our knowledge of collective impact and revisit our vision, goals and approach to better position ourselves for success. We are thankful for the leadership of groups like McConnell and OTF in supporting and promoting the approach and for making resources and programs available to help in the funding and coordination of collective impact activities.

BtB is making lasting and meaningful impact on the affordable housing crisis in Ottawa through the power of collective impact.  If you are interested in getting involved, please send us an email at coordinator@btbottawa.ca

Some Thoughts on a National Housing Strategy

by Steve Pomeroy

After decades of lobbying by advocates of affordable housing, the federal government has agreed to develop a national housing strategy. Given the multi-jurisdictional aspect and shared responsibilities of housing in Canada, such a comprehensive coordinated approach is a welcome initiative.

Provided that it is appropriately funded and supported, a national strategy can make an effective contribution to overcoming historical issues of both market failure and administrative public policy failure in Canada’s housing system.

The strategy must be broad in scope, embracing all elements of the housing system – the non-market low-income part, the intermediate rental sector and access to ownership, especially for millennials and first-time buyers.

In the affordable core need segment, greater attention must be paid to the role of provincial/territorial income assistance and housing allowances to complement housing programs.

Similarly, social housing providers must expand supports to proactively enable labour market reattachment and thereby improve both tenant income and ability to pay rents.

A distinct federal role remains as financier and funder of capital programs to complement provincial/territorial income assistance roles and to directly address Aboriginal housing need.

The rental sector is a critical component of the housing system but its role in the intermediate market has been largely overlooked, resulting in the erosion and undersupply of needed moderate rate rental options.

At the same time, ensuring access to the ownership ladder for millennial and other first-time buyers is critical to manage excess demand in the undersupplied rental sector.

A thoughtful, well-designed and proactive national strategy could go a long way to strengthening Canada’s housing system and generating better outcomes, especially for those currently priced out of the market.

Read the full paper prepared for the Caledon Institute of Social Policy here.

Inclusionary Zoning – The challenge of balancing social and developer needs

by Gina Grosenick, BtB Coordinator

On August 9, 2016, the Centre for Urban Research and Education (CURE) in partnership with the Ontario Ministries of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa (ATEH) hosted a information and consultation session for an inclusionary zoning framework for Ottawa and Ontario.

The provincial Minister of Housing submitted Bill 204, Promoting Affordable Housing Act for first reading into the legislature on May 18 in which Section 4 recommends changes to the planning act that would enable municipalities, like the City of Ottawa, to set policies and bylaws to require development proposals with residential units to include affordable housing units and provide for those units to be maintained as affordable over a period of time.

As it is currently proposed, the legislation is “enabling” not “prescriptive”, which means that it provides for the legal ability for municipalities to adopt the proposed policy, but does not require mandatory adoption.

There has been much anticipation surrounding the legislation since the initial announcement made on March 14.  Summarized, the key elements of the proposed legislation, as currently written, are:

  • “allowing municipalities to determine where and how inclusionary zoning applies through official plan policies and zoning by-laws, subject to the requirements of the proposed legislation and potential regulations
  • prohibiting appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board from municipal inclusionary zoning official plan policies and zoning by-laws, except appeals made by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
  • not authorizing municipalities to accept money in lieu of inclusionary zoning units or allow the units to be built on off-site lands
  • requiring municipalities to establish a procedure for ensuring that inclusionary zoning units remain affordable over time
  • requiring owners of inclusionary zoning units to enter into agreements with the municipality, which may be registered against the land and can be enforced against subsequent owners to keep the unit affordable
  • restricting municipalities from using section 37 (density bonusing) in addition to inclusionary zoning requirements, except in circumstances outlined by regulations” (Source: mah.gov.on.ca/Page14875.aspx)  

The province has sought to balance the opportunity to introduce a measure that could meaningfully support municipal affordable housing development with parameters that builders can work within and still make development viable. It is important to remember that this legislation is a not meant to be a singular solution to the affordable housing crisis but one tool that, used with other programs and processes, can help to address the affordable housing crisis in many of our cities.

In Ottawa, some initial work has been undertaken by the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa to initiate a dialogue with builders on what a local inclusionary zoning bylaw might look like.  Some key discussion points include:

  • what range of the affordable housing spectrum is the bylaw seeking to impact?
  • what are the triggering conditions that require inclusionary zoning?
  • what should the inclusion rate of affordable housing development be?
  • should there be different rates for different zones or development areas?
  • what defines “affordability”?
  • what offsetting concessions can be made available to make development more viable?
  • how does this tool align with and support existing affordable housing programs in the city?

Ottawa stakeholders will have some time to continue this discussion and consider these questions.  Public comments and feedback on the provincial bill is due by August 16.  A consultation guide with specific discussion questions is available online at the Ministries’ websites. The province will present the bill for second reading in the fall at which time it will be forwarded to committee for review and consideration of feedback into the winter, returning for debate and final approval in the spring, allowing for by-law adoption by municipalities in the summer of 2017.

Its important that all stakeholders be part of this discussion.  Share your thoughts with the province,  your community, your city councillor, and us. Reach out to others in the affordable housing and development communities to educate them on and discuss the issue.  Lets make sure that this opportunity is maximized so that we forge new and lasting partnerships for affordable housing development in Ottawa, working together to make a lasting impact in our community.

The Landlord Partnership Program – Helping to House Ottawa’s Homeless

By Faron Gogo

The day of a Housing Locator typically starts out the same – a 5 minute team meeting then scanning online rental listings on Kijiji, Padmapper, and Craigslist. Their hope is to find landlords who would be interested in renting their units to a participant of the City of Ottawa’s Housing First program.

The Landlord Partnership Program (LPP) is an initiative led by The Salvation Army, in partnership with the City of Ottawa.  The LPP helps connect people in need of housing with private market units, in collaboration with agencies providing Housing Based Case Management [HBCM] supports. In Ottawa, the program is housing the city’s most vulnerable and employs two Housing Locators.

Housing Locators are the first point of contact between landlords and the Housing First program. Their goal is to meet with landlords and property managers throughout Ottawa to acquire units for the program, allowing HBCMs to focus their time on what they do best: tenant supports.

The discussion with landlords is often similar – in exchange for renting to a Housing First tenant, the LPP will offer you:

  • Assistance in filling vacancies
  • Rent direct payments from the tenant’s financial source
  • HBCM supports to program participants to help ensure successful tenancies for a minimum of 1 year
  • Access to a 24/7 Landlord Support Line should extra support be needed

However, even with the program’s various benefits, Housing Locator’s still face an uphill battle finding landlords to rent to their tenants. “Many landlords do not want to rent to individuals who have experienced homelessness for multiple reasons. Either they have housed a tenant on social assistance in the past and had a negative experience or they have a stigma regarding the homeless population. Some landlords will say they want to work with us, but do not want someone who has a criminal record or is actively using substances which rules out many of our high needs clients. The program strives to be Housing First and house clients where they’re at.

The Housing First Philosophy believes that the barriers that keep people on the streets or in emergency shelters, such as a lack of employment skills, addiction issues, and poor mental and physical health can be best addressed once a person has stable housing.

“We understand that landlords want to protect their investments and their other tenants. This is why we work so hard discussing our program’s options with landlords and working with our 7 partner agencies to try and find the best fit possible,” explains Luisa Cardenas, one of the program’s Housing Locators. “The goal is to provide units where clients can have long-term, successful tenancies and not return to homelessness”.

While the program boasts a lot of success in the number of individuals that have been housed, and who remain in housing, the Housing Locators want landlords to know that they’re not left alone should something go wrong. Sometimes a unit might not be a good fit for one of the tenants, and evictions do happen. When they do, the housing locator helps to come to an agreement that works for everyone. This may be having the tenant agree to end a tenancy early and be re-housed, or it could involve supporting the landlord in issuing an N5. Either way, landlords will have have a team behind them should they need support, which other tenants just cannot offer.

How the Process Works…

Landlord ProgramEach tenant participating in the Housing First Program and housed through The Landlord Partnership Program is eligible to receive a $250.00 housing allowance to supplement their income to ensure rent is affordable. This housing allowance is paid directly to the landlord with the remainder of the rent paid direct from the tenant’s income source which can be Ontario Works (OW), Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), Old Age Security (OAS) or Canada Pension Plan (CPP). Payment for last month’s rent is available through the City of Ottawa Community and Social Support Centres.

Program Successes:

  • Increased support for landlords and tenants: HBCM staff visit tenants weekly to provide supports and ensure units are well kept while Housing Locators offer additional support to landlords during the housing process.
  • Rent direct payments
  • Application screening tool: All tenants are assessed by HBCM agencies to determine the level of support needed for long term housing retention and success.
  • Landlord engagement: Many landlords that have housed Housing First participants through the LPP continue to offer vacant units for additional tenants, demonstrating strong collaboration.

Program Challenges

  • Application barriers: Many tenants are denied housing due to previous criminal activity, lack of landlord references, credit history or from landlords having a more desirable candidate.
  • Private market competition: It can take some time to find an appropriate match for a unit and set up a viewing, which results in many units being rented to the private market. The LPP does not ask landlords to put units on hold.
  • Re-Housing process: Should a tenancy not be successful, it can be a challenge to find suitable housing prior to an eviction. It also strains landlord relationships and can leave landlords hesitant to rent with the program again.
  • Stigma: Many landlords refuse to rent to individuals on social assistance or to those that have experienced homelessness.
  • Ontario Works and Affordability: While the $250.00 Housing Allowance is an increase in what program participants can afford, there are challenges finding affordable units for individuals on Ontario Works, as the income is lower than for those on ODSP.
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  • Vacancy rates in Ottawa have remained consistency low (2.8% in April of 2015), the construction of rental housing has “flat
    CMHC, 2015; FCM, 2012
  • Nearly 22,000 Ottawa renter households are paying more than 50% of monthly household income on rent and utilities.
    Canadian Rental Housing Index
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