Joan Campbell, ONPHA’s Manager of Education, to retire
“What’s changed?” Joan Campbell repeats as she reflects on her more than 30 years in Ontario’s affordable housing sector. “I’d say it’s our ability to find the information that housing providers need” It’s a stark contrast, she argues, from early days in the sector when staff and boards needed to search out information or figure it out for themselves. “We’ve come a long way from everyone re-inventing the wheel,” she laughs.
In the early 1970s, as the City of Toronto was amassing the land that would come to be the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood, Joan worked in the City’s Inner Neighbourhoods Division and later in its nascent housing division. Unbeknownst to her, that revolutionary development project would begin a career in the affordable housing sector that would span more than 30 years.
Through Joan’s work on the St. Lawrence Market redevelopment, she was introduced to the Co-operative Housing Federation of Toronto and several stakeholders that were taking advantage of housing development programs to create co-operative housing.
With these new contacts, Joan was a founding member of Lantana Non-Profit Homes Corporation, a development consultancy that would eventually create more than 8,200 units of co-operative and non-profit housing. In those early days, however, Joan also worked as the first coordinator at a housing co-operative in Toronto’s east end. She describes the job, her first “on the ground” job in housing operations and administration as a “trial by fire,” explaining “I had a chop shop in the garage, raccoons burrowing their way into the roof, balconies that drained water into units, an energy
conservation system that turned the hot water boilers off at dinner time and six months’ worth of incorrect rent RGI calculations.”
With on-going housing development programs, work for Lantana quickly grew and Joan found herself working onsite at Lantana’s first acquisition-rehabilitation project. These projects were Joan’s first exposure to the non-profit housing model and the landlord-tenant relationship with in-situ tenants. “These redevelopments are where I got my first exposure to the landlord-tenant relationship,” she says. “I still remember the anxiety I felt when I went to court for my first eviction proceedings.”
A common thread throughout Joan’s career has been building the capacity of individuals and organizations in the affordable housing sector. With Lantana, she worked directly with boards of directors as they developed and began to operate their buildings. Later, she joined the provincial housing ministry to develop guidelines and resources for the Jobs Ontario Homes housing development program before she joined the ONPHA team in 1994. “I’ve been on the front line of housing in Ontario for a long time,” she says, “and I’ve constantly been inspired by the integrity and passion of the people who make up our sector.”
Joan encourages people entering the sector to make the most of each of the opportunities they’re offered. “I leveraged each of the opportunities that I was given in each position that I’ve held,” she says, adding, “they’ve been stepping stones along the way and you never know when the skills and experience you’ve developed will open the next door in your career.”
Like her career, Joan’s retirement promises to be anything but dull. She is contemplating joining a volunteer board of directors in the Brantford area and will spend more time quilting, on tending 300 feet of perennial flower borders and producing and preserving food. “We have a commercial greenhouse in our backyard,” Joan says. “I want to make the most of it!”