Implementing Anti-Racist Initiatives in your Organization
How 3 housing organizations are leading the way
The following content was adapted from the Implementing anti-racist initiatives in your organization session at the 2021 ONPHA Conference. Thanks to Stephanie Allen, Evelyn Amponsah, and Hannah Vlaar, for their contribution and information provided at the session.
Implementing anti-racist initiatives in your organization requires more than teaching people how to be an anti-racist. Anti-Black racism analysis asks us to consider how the history of slavery and colonialism that resulted in the disenfranchisement of Black people continues to show up in our systems, practices, and behaviors today.
Meaningful change takes time and collaboration, but there’s always steps we can start to take today in the right direction. Here’s how three housing organizations in Canada are leading the way.
Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging
In July 2020, the executive team at BC Housing established the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (OEDIB) to guide and support employees, partners, and the people they serve in taking action towards equity and inclusion. The Office serves as a collaborative space that addresses systemic discrimination and promotes change by analyzing the organization’s various business operations, programs, policies, and strategies to ensure that equity, diversity, and inclusion are embedded in everything they do.
One of their first major steps to guide and support this work was to focus on data collection. This allowed the team at BC Housing to quantitatively see the issues raised by the people in their communities. For example, they are now better able to advocate with statistics that show how Black, Latinx, and people of Arab backgrounds are over-represented in the homeless population. This was made possible by collecting the racial characteristics and demographics of people experiencing homelessness during their point and time count.
Another way they are leveraging their data is through an Equity Audit Assessment. By analyzing where they stand on pay equity, recruitment and retention, and promotions, they can map a way forward and find areas of improvement. This data will also be used as a dashboard to measure and track their performance over time and keep them accountable.
A few other initiatives by the OEDIB include:
- Establishing affinity and employee resource groups so people have a safe space to share their experiences and have meaningful conversations.
- Listening to and amplifying the voices of those most affected, learning from these experiences and feeding them back into how they approach this work.
- Educating and building capacity of the people in their organization through education opportunities.
- Collaborating with sector partners and their leaders in British Columbia to provide education and training.
- Focusing on cultural shift and rewarding early adopters.
- Implementing a communication strategy with story-telling in a way that is trauma informed and non-exploitative.
By embedding these practices and goals into their policies and programs, BC Housing is ensuring that EDI is more than a theoretical nice-to-have, and that the measures are trickling down from the Province’s mandate letter to employee personal performance plans.
The Centre for Advancing the Interest of Black People
Toronto Community Housing
In December 2021, the Confronting Anti-Black Racism (CABR) strategy team at Toronto Community Housing (TCHC) created the Centre for Advancing the Interest of Black People. The division oversees the implementation of the organization’s anti-racism strategies while also increasing the staff’s ability to respond to incidences of Anti-Black racism.
The City of Toronto is mandated to confront racism through the Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism. Although TCHC, as an extension of the City, is implicated by this mandate, the CABR team was created specifically to develop a strategy to confront Anti-Black racism in the context of social housing. As the largest community housing provider in Canada – and the second largest in North America – TCHC holds a unique position to reduce negative outcomes for Black Canadians.
They started by looking at global community housing best practices to create case studies of challenges and opportunities, and they engaged with tenants and staff in solution-oriented conversations. In sessions with tenants and employees, they presented the case studies to give participants the opportunities to walk through the scenarios and think through to see if that was something that would work for them. Overall, the CABR team; engaged with over 100 staff (both Black and non-Black), hosted over 50 two-hour small group consultations with tenants, and talked to over 700 tenants and employees. With feedback from these sessions, the team was then able to create a strategy for the organization.
The Centre looks at all the different positions and silos that exist within the organization and explores how they are connected with other systems that work together to create a unique experience for Black tenants. This approach allows TCHC to locate the roots of Anti-Black racism within the organization and the community and work to ameliorate it.
Anti-Racism Organizational Change
Centertown Citizens Ottawa Corporation
Centertown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC) is focusing their anti-racist work on three specific initiatives:
- promoting anti-racist organizational change;
- creating a governance sub-committee’
- and implementing a transforming tenant engagement project.
To promote anti-racist organizational change, they divided the work into two phases. Phase I included hiring an equity consultant who co-created a baseline anti-oppression training session for staff, board, and committee volunteers. The goal was to build common knowledge and vocabulary among staff, and to sow the seeds to prepare the team for the upcoming changes. The plan also included an outline of anti-oppression organizational change that was specific to CCOC. Phase II included hiring an equity consultant to conduct an organizational audit. Through the data collected there, they were able to co-create a change plan with staff.
CCOC also created a governance sub-committee in 2020 with the purpose of defining and applying a critical systems approach – with special attention to anti-racist and anti-oppressive lenses – to the governance structures, policies, and culture of the organization. The committee is responsible for recommending direction and strategies for adoption, and created a roadmap to identify and address both the structural and interpersonal barriers that get in the way of meaningful volunteer participation in their governance structure.
Lastly, their Transforming Tenant Engagement is a three-year project funded by the Community Housing Transformation Center. Their goal is to build capacity around housing directions and responsibilities and to increase participation in housing-related decisions and projects. To do this work, they hired an evaluation consultant and expert to help them map out the project. So far, they have completed a demographic survey of tenants and existing governance volunteers so they could understand who is making decisions at CCOC and who isn’t participating in their governance. They’ve also identified gaps in governance training and improved volunteer supports on an ongoing basis.
Best Practices and key takeaways
Anti-Black racism analysis is a competency that everyone can learn within their work. Here are a few key takeaways to keep in mind:
- Listen to and amplify the voices of Black, Indigenous, People of Color and those most affected by these issues.
- Get support and direction from leadership. Work closely with the executive team and get support from leadership at all levels to ensure you have institutional oversight and direction.
- Embed the work across all areas of what you do. Make anti-racism work a priority in strategic, department, and individual work plans.
- Work collectively. Co-create the overall goal and share it often; let it be your anchor when the work gets hard.
- Work with experts. Experts are not just those with lived-experience. All three of the organizations above are paying, compensating, and resourcing individuals within the community to drive the change.
- Meet people where they are. Proceed at the pace of trust and meet people where they are. Don’t make assumptions about anyone’s knowledge or comfort with anti-racism work.
- Be solution-oriented. Create a space where people don’t just vent, promote meaningful conversations about possible solutions.
- Be accountable. Creating a tenant-staff oversight group whose responsibility is to keep you accountable is a great place to start.
- Assign specific resources. Look at your work plan and see what other projects you can put on pause to make space for this work. Don’t expect people to do it on the side of their desk. Look for grants that are out there for anti-racism work.
- Communicate effectively. Project communication with all stakeholders increases collective buy-in.
- Leverage community relationships. Tenants who are leaders in the community can work as facilitators of the conversation and are already trusted by the community.
- Always remember that this work will never end.
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