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“Be your own champions”

July 5, 2011

“The public wants you to succeed. Don’t be defensive. Be your own champions.”

That’s the message participants gave incoming Toronto Community Housing board members at last Tuesday’s Rethinking Public Housing:  New ideas for the TCHC Board. The event was hosted by openingthewindow.com and the Centre for Social Innovation to generate fresh thinking on social housing.

We got lots.

I am repeatedly delighted by the excitement and energy social housing can generate. Before I started this blog, my colleagues had told me, “No-one wants to talk about social housing.”

I don’t believe that any more. I did not publicize this event on this blog, and invited only 2 or 3 people who might have otherwise missed the announcements in the CSI, Social Planning Toronto and Maytree newsletters. Even so, the event was filled to capacity within a week.

I was also delighted by the vigour of the ideas. The event began with three panelists with three ideas apiece, and then participants generated their own ideas.

At the end of this entry you’ll see the link to these ideas, and an invitation to add your own. But first, here are some of the themes that captured my imagination:

  • Focus on human capital as the central ingredient in social housing renewal.
  • Build a holistic community vision – one that re-connects TCHC buildings with the people who live and work next door, to schools, BIAs and other neighbourhood institutions.
  • Bring an “enterprise model” – not a public housing model – to redevelopment, to energy efficiency and to social issues.
  • Be pragmatic. Are private companies more efficient than TCHC’s own staff?  Will pouring millions into the stock reduce the repair backlog? Do the research and find out. And then ask, “what are our objectives, and will this path get us there?”
  • Respond to the need for more affordable housing, but not in the same ways we have in the past. Consider affordable home ownership – a feature of Hong Kong public policy since the 1960s. Earmark affordable units in the developments that will pay for our new subways.  Use inclusionary zoning and other planning tools to create affordable homes wherever new buildings are developed. And of course I couldn’t resist talking about Homesteading as an alternative to selling scattered units in bad condition.

There were lots of specific ideas worth a blog entry in themselves: consider partnerships with high schools and universities to create inter-generational programs; look at turning TCHC buildings into co-ops or transferring the stock to an independent private non-profit corporation; think about spinning off TCHC’s  seniors’ portfolio. But don’t forget your history

What’s your good idea?

In the next few weeks I hope to send the TCHC Board and staff a list of ideas for their consideration, and expand on some of the most intriguing ideas in this blog.

But before I do, I want to give everyone a chance to build the list. So here’s the invitation:

Were you at last Tuesday’s event? I compiled your notes as best as I could, but some of those notes were rather cryptic. Here’s your chance to clarify what you meant.

Not at the event? Read over the ideas to fuel your thinking, and then add your own idea at the end.

All changes and comments can be added straight onto the list here.  (This is my first time using Google Docs and a bit of an experiment. If it’s not working properly, leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do.)

Is this all just talk?

Partly. Toronto Community Housing’s board is under no obligation to take these or any other ideas into account. The board reports to City Council, not us, and base their decisions on the recommendations of their staff, not those of the citizenry.

On the other hand, if I were a TCHC Board member, I would be glad to know there was a band of citizens rooting for me, who wanted good things to happen at TCHC, and had some ideas for what those good things might be.

And if I were on TCHC’s staff, I’d be constantly on the lookout for any new idea, if only to spark new ideas of my own.

Public housing is predicated on the idea that the public has a stake in its future. So members of the public, speak up!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Paul Connelly permalink
    July 5, 2011 2:45 pm

    I guess for me, being pragmatic in this situation would mean not being absolutely opposed to any sale of units, no matter what the reason. I think people should oppose the idea of selling off TCHC property to help reduce the City’s operating deficit.

    But if selling some units or parts of some larger sites could help pay for an increase in density and the creation of energy-efficient units to replace inefficient ones, I think TCHC should look at it.

    Also, the notion of re-linking the housing to the community, both physically and as part of a vision for the community, is vital.

    Both the sale of land for intensification and the search for ways to re-imagine the role of housing in the community are features of the Regent Park revitalization. Let’s look on that initiative as a positive first step, learning from any mistakes and improving on the successes.

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