Getting the non-profit housing sector “ready to launch”
Maybe you still have young adults living at home. Maybe it’s a recent memory. Maybe you can still remember being a young adult and navigating that awkward process of self-discovery and exercising the self-determination that comes with moving from your parents’ house to independence. The stories of the “ready to launch” period are the subjects of books, Hollywood movies, and many family arguments.
The recently announced update to the Province’s Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy and the 2016 federal budget brought these moments to mind. In both instances, senior levels of government affirmed a welcome commitment to the creation of affordable rental housing, and other promises that gave us hope for the future. But, what echoed loudest for our sector is what was implied. The tools offered and the language used in both documents infer that new development will happen through a more capable and better resourced private sector, while, at the same time, the non-profit housing sector is “modernized” and helped to “achieve self-reliance.” Reading both documents felt a little bit like watching parents choose between a favourite and problem child.
We acknowledge that the non-profit housing sector needs to evolve and grow. But we also believe that our members offer something unique and valuable to the communities and residents they serve. As the provincial and federal governments move forward with an agenda to create change in the sector, we know that the non-profit housing sector is something unique and special, and that it needs to be protected.
Over the coming months, both levels of government will begin meeting with their respective stakeholders. At the provincial level, we’re expecting to see consultation on changes to modernize the sector, to develop strategies that respond to the unique housing needs of Indigenous people, and a push for harmonization and alignment in supportive housing. We believe the Province will be focused on creating a framework that further enables service managers to meet the objectives of their housing and homelessness plans and aligns provincial investments in housing, healthcare, and community support.
This is important work, but it’s equally important to make sure that the new, modern system of social housing works for our members, too. ONPHA has been exploring and answering questions about what makes a modern, self-reliant, and sustainable sector. We know, for example, that the rent-geared-to-income system needs to change, in no small part because of its complexity and the burden and restrictions that it places on non-profit housing providers. We also know that we need deeper partnerships with health and community support service providers to help tenants achieve stable tenancies and build communities. We’re also asking tough questions about what the end of mortgages, operating agreements, and debentures means, and how we can grow the sector, without losing units that are essential in the community.
Through our Regional Meetings, e-Alerts, and websites, we’ll be asking our members what else their organizations need to become a better and more sustainable version of themselves. We’ll also be pressing the Province and service managers to recognize the autonomy and self-determination of our members. The principles of flexibility, local responsiveness, and discretion that the Province has used to guide its relationship with service managers and DSSABs must also flow through to housing providers. Creating the next generation of Ontario’s housing system will require creativity and the unique talents of each stakeholder and community member.
When taking a big step towards independence and self-reliance, the non-profit housing sector and our government partners are bound to have some successes and make some mistakes. Change is hard, and sometimes it feels more comfortable to try to control how things evolve. But building strong relationships and working collaboratively together toward a common goal will become even more important as we move forward.
The Province has recognized the important role that non-profit housing providers play in communities and has encouraged service managers to work with them to build their capacity. We encourage both the Province and service managers to take a step further and to work with our members as equal partners in strengthening local housing and homelessness systems. Housing providers will also have to step up and embrace the changes and opportunities that are coming to them. With trust, a willingness to grow and take risks, and confidence in our partnerships with each other, we believe a very bright future for the sector is on the horizon.