Category Archives: Conversation resources

November Action Highlight: Host a Workshop

One key way we at the Interfaith Housing Initiative engage is by hosting workshops.  What we do at these workshops will depend on what kinds of questions or needs are coming forward.

Here are a few sample questions that our workshops could help explore answers to:
  1. What is being done across the city to help low-income neighbours afford a safe and quality home?
  2. What role can our community play in the work of addressing homelessness?
  3. What can we do to better respond to needs in our local community?
  4. What are other faith communities doing?
  5. How can we participate in local conversations on housing in our neighbourhoods?

Types of Workshops we can help plan:


Regional Workshops –  we could help you engage with other faith communities, community leagues, neighbours and other local partners in your corner of the city.

  1. Providing solid information on the current need for Housing help and supports, and hosting a conversation between diverse voices around a healthy community response to new neighbours and new units of affordable housing.  Example:  What’s Your Wisdom on Affordable Housing?
  2. We could develop a workshop to encourage collective action by local faith communities, and/or invite local partners to speak to community needs.

Local Neighbourhood Workshops enabling healthy housing conversation between faith communities, the local community league(s), and local businesses.

  1. Equipping and supporting people of faith for constructive engagement in upcoming conversations on affordable housing in their community.
  2. Connecting directly as a support to healthy process in a local housing conversation.

Multi-faith community workshops engaging numerous faith groups in your area.

  1. Providing Education on needs and challenges, as well as identifying opportunities for volunteering, collaboration and connection.
  2. Story-telling, and capacity-building to get your community thinking about what is possible.

Workshops for Individual Faith Communities

  1. Helping the local congregation consider what meaningful engagement looks like in their local context.  We could invite local social workers or community leaders to speak to issues and opportunities nearby.
  2. Highlighting opportunities, providing education, volunteering and ongoing connection/participation.

Call to Action:
Put the coffee on, and invite CRIHI’s Mike Van Boom to stop by to see what might work best to fit your questions and your community.  Email: mike@interfaithhousing.ca

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See Inside: Metis Urban/Capital Housing

Not-for-Profit Social Housing providers like Metis Urban/Capital Housing play a crucial part in the work of providing home and help to populations in extreme poverty.

Description and brief history

Metis Urban Housing Corporation (MUHC) was formed thirty-five years ago to manage a subsidized housing program targeted to aid low-moderate income aboriginal families. Individuals and families were able to afford a home, paying 25% of their rent geared to income (RGI).

Ten years ago, as housing stock aged, and government subsidies began to fall away, a sister company, Metis Capital Housing Corporation (MCHC) was formed in order to renovate, build and manage affordable Units.

Today, between the two sides of the organization, MUHC/MCHC is the largest Aboriginal Housing operation in Canada; owned by the Metis Nation of Alberta. They have 14 locations in Alberta, both Urban and Rural, ranging from Medicine Hat to Grande Prairie.

Here’s what MUHC/MCHC is able to charge for a three-bedroom unit: their most common housing stock:

Metis housing rents

MUHC/MCHC does have a few apartment complexes, but the vast majority (90%) are single dwellings; houses all across the province. Some are bungalows and 4-plexes. Their units are spread throughout the city, which reduces the likelihood of a home becoming a target for negative activity.

As MUHC is not a charity, their operational dollars come in part from the Province of Alberta (80%) and in what they receive from Rent (20%). As they do not receive any dollars for infrastructure, or renovation, they have to squeeze those dollars out while trying to keep rents low. This can be difficult.

Not your average landlord

Many of MUHC/MCHC’s tenants can often face significant barriers and require some kind of supports. Marilyn Gladue, Director of Housing for Edmonton and Rural North says, “We are not funded to do that, but we have to.” She says, “many tenants are from reserves or settlements, so are not familiar with renter responsibilities such as neighbouring, mowing lawns, being good tenants. We can’t take it for granted that people know the basics.” And many come in to large centres like Edmonton to access medical needs or pursue educational opportunities.

MUHC/MCHC works hard with tenants, doing far more than the average landlord; assisting families with budgeting, or repayment plans if they get behind on their rent. They try to be somewhat patient and flexible as they want people to succeed. They also do lots of workshops.

Housing is meant to be short term as people move up the spectrum to greater stability or even home ownership. But that road is longer for some than others, and not everyone is able to move forward in the same way.

Successes and failures:

MUHC/MCHC has seen some very good results with people turning lives around; responding to their efforts to work with them. They have been able to help some move up the ladder from Subsidized housing to affordable, and then even into Home Ownership. They have a great relationship with Habitat for Humanity and have seen many of their families move forward and succeed in their program.

One success story involves a single mom with three kids. Her husband left her, and she was really struggling to provide for her family. She was able to rent with MUHC, and with their support, she fought her way out of debt, managed to feed and clothe her children, and is now back in school. She’s moving forward!

Another family was raising four children. When the husband got a plumbing ticket and a job upgrade the family no longer qualified for subsidized housing. MCHC was able to transfer them to affordable units, and from there they were able to make the leap into home ownership.

But not everyone succeeds. The way can be a steep uphill climb for many. Families can face lots of pressures, including economic, addictions, peer pressure and lifestyle choices. People can’t be forced to make changes, and it all has to be voluntary. Some are not willing or able to accept the helps offered.

Marilyn observes that the Truth and Reconciliation process is important and crucial to help people heal and confront negative pressures, and to move forward with positive choices.

Long Wait Lists

Like other providers of Affordable Housing, MUCH/MCHC has a very long waiting list. They have 1800-2000 famlilies on their wait list at any given time. (that calculates to between 8000 and 10,000 people.)

While they wait, people struggle to get by, paying far more rent than they can afford (up to 60%), doing whatever they have to in order to survive. And there are many problems that come from being under-housed. Affording transportation to your job is hard. Some families are staying in motels.

In today’s housing market, there are some rental spaces available, but not nearly enough that are supportive. As well, landlords will generally choose a person with a stronger income and rent history over someone who is low-income. And unfortunately, not everyone is willing to rent to aboriginal families that are struggling.

Often people with no other choices will sometimes end up in slum landlord situations where properties are not well-maintained by the landlord. This has a very negative impact on the family, including souring relations with local neighbors.

Moving Forward…

Because of the financial realities of contemporary property development, MUHC/MCHC is forced to move beyond single dwellings to building townhouses or small apartments. Currently, they are building four or eight-plex townhouses in order to keep costs affordable and sustainable.

There are some serious concerns on the radar as subsidy agreements are expiring and not being renewed. This has resulted in approximately 40% of units lost nationwide. Today, 160,000 families are being subsidized across Canada. By 2032 (15 years), all these subsidies will disappear.

But MUHC/MCHC sees reason for hope. The Federal Government today is the first in almost forty years to work on a National Housing Strategy. They are looking at different models as the current model is considered unsustainable. Some of the ideas being considered are:

  1. Tying funding to families rather than units.
  2. Recognizing the need to renovate current inventory and add/build new.
  3. Amending some of the National Housing occupancy guidelines so they are able to respond to the need in a more flexible way.

By: Mike Van Boom, based on an interview with MUHC Executive Director, Larry Scarbeau and Director of Housing, Marilyn Gladue.

Building for a Healthy Conversation

For those of us trying to plan community meetings where we can discuss complex subjects, we regularly find ourselves scratching our heads at how to best do this.

Great conversations don’t usually just happen on their own.  Anyone who has tried to talk through something of significance will likely also be able to share with you a time a conversation went off the rails.  Things were said.  People were hurt, and relationships took a big hit!

It is one of the primary responsibilities of our Housing Ambassador to help local neighbourhoods learn how to plan a great conversation, and then practice running one in their neighbourhood.  To assist in that work, we are developing a Community Conversation Toolkit that we hope will be finished shortly.

But while we’re polishing that up, we’d like you to see some alternative models for conversation.  It will help give you some ideas as to how else you might be able to set the table for a good conversation in your neighbourhood; a conversation where everyone has a chance to be heard, where we have time and place to really discuss things of significance, and where we can together work towards the wisest and best decision.

Check out the following link on our website:  “Great Ways to Talk it Through” https://interfaithhousinginitiative.wordpress.com/in-your-neighbourhood/great-ways-to-talk-it-through/

To help you take one step further, here are some solid rules with a great track record of success for establishing a safe and patient space for neighbours to really hear each other.   (From ICA Associates)   Great conversations are totally doable.  Let’s learn how to do this together!

rules full version