Written by Vera Feng
November 28, 2022
As one of the more recent additions to Cahdco’s team, I feel grateful to have gotten the opportunity to attend the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association’s (ONPHA) 2022 Conference in Toronto from November 3rd to 5th. This conference marked the first large-scale in-person gathering ONPHA has hosted since the emergence of the global pandemic. Attendees, speakers, and organizers alike were undoubtedly excited to connect and share their knowledge amongst their colleagues. The conference was themed around the phrase “our shared horizon,” as the housing sector prepares for what many anticipate to be both a challenging and promising era going forward.
Bringing together housing providers, service providers, community organizers, funders, housing developers, and government representatives (among others), ONPHA 2022 responded to the urgent need for affordable housing by calling on participants “to challenge the status quo, get creative, and move together towards our shared horizon.” With the Ontario government being eager to implement their newest 2022 Housing Supply Action Plan, More Homes Built Faster, housing professionals will need to adapt to an unprecedented regulatory framework in a challenging economic climate. My main take-away from the conference was that collaboration across the sector is both a necessary measure for survival and a chance to resolve systemic issues embedded in the process of developing and operating community housing. While my colleagues and I were quicker to reach for our coffee cups than we were to physically reach-out to embody “our shared horizon” during the Day 1 morning presentation, it was clear from the start that every participant was earnest in their desire to learn and collaborate.
Each day of the conference was organized around a set of questions and a theme. In addition to Plenary presentations that set the scope and tone for the day, each day included a plethora of sessions on more specific topics and additional programming like the Welcome Reception, Tradeshow, and Community in Action events.
Below, I have included a quick survey of the days and sessions I attended.
Day 1 – Leadership
This day centered around how leaders in the housing sector can adapt to the challenges coming our way. Each of the sessions that I attended introduced collaboration-based projects and demonstrated how professionals across the sector are pursuing creative strategies. Other sessions that day addressed ways to improve board governance, diversity in leadership, and negotiation and human resources best-practices.
Think Big: Impacting large-scale change through collaboration and innovation
Speakers: Lisa Ker (Community Housing Transformation Centre), François Fayad (Community Housing Transformation Centre)
Lisa Ker and François Fayad introduced the CHTC’s pilot project, PLANCHER, that the Community Housing Transformation Centre (CHTC) recently launched in Quebec. They argued that PLANCHER is emblematic of cross-sector collaboration’s ability to facilitate and accelerate large-scale affordable housing development that otherwise is completely inaccessible to smaller organizations. PLANCHER aims to give affordable housing developers a greater competitive edge in the race for land and funding. From what I understand, participating organizations would offer an amount of their equity to PLANCHER’s collective pool. In turn, the combined resources would be directed towards large-scale housing projects the collective group chooses to pursue. Although this project is still in its early stages, PLANCHER aims to open doors to a strong network between cities, municipal housing authorities, co-ops, government agencies, sector-partners, technical resource groups (GRTs/AGRTQ in Quebec specifically), and more.
Housing reimagined: Creative solutions to the long-term housing crisis
Sessions A – Housing Journeys Reimagined Solutions Lab: Michael Braithwaite (Blue Door), Adrienne Pacini (SHS Consulting), Joshua Benard (Habitat for Humanity GTA)
Michael Braithwaite, Adrienne Pacini, and Joshua Benard presented the “Dwell” project that aims to bridge the gap between affordable rental supportive housing and home ownership. This project comes out of the National Housing Strategy’s Housing Journeys Reimagined Solutions Lab. With a focus on permanent affordability and stability, Dwell draws from existing housing tenure models to both challenge the typical housing continuum from homelessness to home ownership and develop a tenure model that makes home ownership possible for low to moderate income residents from the start. They also explain that this model was designed to also allow residents to build equity over time.
The Dwell team anticipates releasing a report in the near future. But for those who want to learn more about this project now, the On The Way Home Podcast Ep. 77 features an interview with four members of the team about their process.
Session B – Vision SoHo Alliance: Harry Froussios (Zelinka Priamo Ltd.), Laura Gurr (Cohen Highley LLP), Stephanie Sutherland (Cohen Highley LLP), Greg Playford (Devonshire Financial), Sylvia Harris (Flourish/Indwell)
This panel was led by representatives from the Vision SoHo Alliance. In this large-scale project based in London, Ontario, multiple affordable housing providers developed individual housing projects while guided by an overarching site development plan. The project encapsulates the development of 7 buildings, 2 of which are heritage buildings. The site’s focus area is the Old Victoria Hospital Lands in London, ON. By working as a coalition, these organizations were all able to, on the building-scale, pursue a project that their expertise best supports. But, together on a site-scale, the Vision Soho Alliance was able to offer “a healthy mix of energy efficient, accessible, and socially inclusive housing” for a mixed-income and mixed-use community that is reflective of the full breadth of the Soho neighborhood population. They also addressed insurance needs and development applications more effectively by using their collective resources.
The London Community Foundation writes, “convened by London Community Foundation, the Vision SoHo Alliance includes Chelsea Green Home Society, Homes Unlimited, Indwell, Residenza Affordable Housing, London Affordable Housing Foundation and Zerin Development Corporation.”
Day 2 – Sustainability
The second day was oriented towards the question of sustainable longevity as we anticipate more challenges going forward. The sessions I attended advocated for long-term solutions including concepts like patient-capital and community land trusts (including community-led, publicly-led, and sector-led organizations) to ensure enduring affordability. The other sessions included guidance on mergers and acquisitions, technological tools, energy retrofit project development, and grappling with regulatory changes.
How to truly deliver affordable housing
Speakers: Valesa Faria (City of Toronto, Housing Secretariat), Olwen Bennett (New Commons Development), Cliff Youdale (Ottawa Community Housing)
Moderator: Wayne Tuck (Yardi Canada)
This session focused on the concept of patient capital and long-term affordability solutions. As we all anticipate a challenging economic climate going forward, panelists argued that it is critical for the non-profit sector to have access to financing partners and agreement terms that are oriented around longer-term yields. This strategy would make possible the delivery of social infrastructure that is holistic and enduring in its affordability. In our current situation, despite new construction of affordable housing units, more affordable units are being lost than gained. Some panelists pointed to anticipated legislative changes as an opportunity to pursue new solutions. Others pointed to new construction methods such as modular design as a way to make more projects feasible.
Affordable forever: Preserving affordable housing through community land trusts
Speakers: Ray Sullivan (Ottawa Community Land Trust – and former ED of CCOC), Alia (Circle Community LandTrust), Michael Braithwaite (Blue Door Shelters), Joshua Barndt, (Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust), Claudia Pedrero (Robins Appleby LLP)
Moderator: Jenn St. Louis (City of Toronto, City Housing Corporations Relationship Unit)
In addition to introducing the structure of Community Land Trusts (CLTs), this session featured representatives from community-based to public-based to sector-based CLT organizations. Each representative gave insight into their personal experiences but also what catalyzed the start of their organizations specifically. As a whole, CLTs aim to ensure enduring affordability but also make affordable housing development scalable.
As a rather new member of the Cahdco team, it was great to see CCOC’s former Executive Director Ray Sullivan on the panel. Although I was too shy to introduce myself, it was clear how deeply committed Ray Sullivan was at CCOC and continues to be at the Ottawa Community Land Trust.
Parkdale Neighborhood Land Trust
Day 3 – People
The third day was centered around how professionals in the affordable housing sector can better serve the people in need of more extensive support services and better address complex tenant issues. The session I attended introduced two new endeavors to improve services for indigenous people in need of housing and for people with acute mental health difficulties.
Advancing change in supportive housing
Speakers: Annie Carruthers (Options Bytown Non-Profit Housing Corporation), Catharine Vandelinde (Options Bytown Non-Profit Housing Corporation), Carol Thames (Houselink & Mainstay Community Housing), Ben Younesi (Houselink and Mainstay Community Housing), Hani Siyad (Houselink & Mainstay Community Housing), Fred Bever (Houselink and Mainstay Community Housing)
During this session, Annie Carruthers and Catharine Vandelinde presented Options Bytown’s new Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). The document itself came out of a comprehensive process that considered how the organization could structure their governance, improve recruitment and staff development processes, expand their services, and form meaningful partnerships with Indigenous housing and support organizations to better contribute to reconciliation.
In the second half of the session, Carol Thames, Ben Younesi, and Fred Bever from Houselink and Mainstay Community Housing led a presentation on how their team developed a recovery-based training program for staff and tenants. They put great emphasis on the barriers to mental health recovery and discussed the feedback collection and research done to develop better support systems tailored to their home-base in Toronto.
I could not be more excited to have gotten to learn from and connect with colleagues at ONPHA 2022. But more importantly, I hope the experience of participating in this conference facilitates the big pushes that need to happen for us to keep providing affordable housing as the economic climate continues to get more difficult.
The organizations and the different projects presented over these few days represent strategic collaborative effort, only made possible by the pooling of practice-based knowledge and resources. Solidarity with professionals across the sector and most importantly those in need of affordable housing is necessary for the sector to address the housing crisis in Ontario going forward. While risk mitigation and practical concerns are challenging and often perceived as roadblocks to collaboration, only in wrestling with these issues directly will we be able to sustain collective organization and strategic action across the sector. So, while a little overwhelmed as a newcomer to this sector, I am first and foremost excited to meet the challenges coming towards us with my colleagues at Cahdco and CCOC, clients, partners, and collaborators.
In the following months, my colleagues and I will be continuing to write about our experiences at ONPHA 2022.
November 28, 2022