Category Archives: resources for communities

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.

Riverbend & Terwillegar Talk Housing

On Saturday, October 29 from 1-4pm, CRIHI invited eight neighbourhoods in Riverbend & Terwillegar to a workshop and conversation called ‘Homes4ourNeighbours’ at Riverbend United Church.

There were about 25 people in attendance, including 15 interested neighbours. This event provided good information on affordable housing, shared frontline stories and experiences, and then gave neighbours a safe place to share their worries, concerns and ideas on how neighbours can respond to new proposals and new neighbours.

riverbend-united-churchAlthough this event had a modest turnout, there was a good cross-section of people and opinions engaged, including representatives from two community leagues (the Ridge and Riverbend), members of the Terwillegar Homeowner Association, Brander Gardens ROCKS, faith leaders, and neighbours at large. It was also a respectful conversation, taking place under rules that stated: Everyone has wisdom. We need to hear everyone’s wisdom for the best result. There are no wrong answers. And everyone will both hear and be heard.

In our December issue of the Neighbourly, and in this post CRIHI summarizes three (out of seven total) key points of conversation and what the group heard from each other. The full report is available below and includes summaries of the presentations and several additional points of conversation.  CRIHI thanks our hosts at Riverbend United Church (pictured) for their provision of space and refreshments! 

Full Report:  report-on-affordable-housing-workshop-october-29-2016-in-riverbendterwillegar

Here are three points discussed by the group:

NUMBER ONE: We need quality consultation!

group-conversationsSeveral participants in the group shared their frustration at poorly done consultation. If the developer doesn’t have a good process for engaging the community, and is unable to address reasonable concerns, that will trigger much higher levels of fear, worry and concern in the local community.

The group highlighted two positive examples of consultation done well: The Right at Home Society for its planned development of the Westmount Presbyterian Church site development in North Glenora. They spent one year in dialogue with the existing local community. It was observed that it takes a strong commitment to dialogue as communities do not naturally want to be inclusive of new/different neighbours. The Schizophrenia Society of Alberta was also highlighted as a positive example in the development of a Permanent Supportive Housing project in the Bonnie Doon area.

A healthy conversation with a diverse group of voices was identified as necessary at both planning tables and in consultations. They also advise Developers to give neighbours some choices, and to take their input into account when fine-tuning a project.

NUMBER TWO: This is What a Healthy Neighbourhood Response looks like:

Assuming the development/property management agency has engaged properly with the existing community, such a response should be:

  1. Inclusive of many perspectives, recognizing that not all are in agreement (accepting that some views may be supportive, others that are opposing, and still others that are questioning)
  2. Willing to be part of the process and to dialogue – meaning there is opportunity for all to be listened to and to be heard – to give and take. Requires respect as not everything may go ‘our way,’ but it doesn’t mean we haven’t heard or been heard.
  3. Welcoming of new neighbours, even if a process or development does not unfold as it should. Positive example: The existing community in the Haddow neighbourhood has come to a broad agreement they will accept and welcome the future new residents of the Haddow First Place development, even though the poor consultation process sparked strong resistance to the project.
  4. Connected to a neighbourhood’s story – where the look and feel of a project fits the surroundingneighbourhood so that community culture is maintained and enhanced and positive outcomes and opportunities are perceived and known.” Related idea:   A neighbourhood could benefit from the development of a “charter” of what is community (a community charter of neighborliness).”
  5. Aware of the need across the city, and our community’s responsibility to help in meeting that need. Ie. “Our responsibilities include that with the inner-city expanding, we need to promote Affordable Housing in all areas of the city” (From a Terwillegar resident)

NUMBER THREE: The Need to be Good Neighbours

“Our responsibilities should be to welcome and include our new neighbours, be open-minded without prejudice – we should assume they are good people – there are a lot of ways to get to know folks”bgrocks-drum-lesson

“We need to find ways to get to know our neighbours. An offer of free topsoil has enabled my family to get to know many neighbours whom we had never met.”

“As in the “Welcome Home (Program),” we need to welcome new neighbours to our neighbourhoods.”

“The success of “Brander Gardens Rocks” results from its being based on a reciprocal relationship between the residents of that Community Housing project and the existing residents of the surrounding community. Over the years, attitudes have changed from “us and them” to just “us” and from “we can do it for them” to “we can do it with them.” “Just because a person has a lower income doesn’t mean they don’t aspire to a better life. Many of these people want to give back.”

Existing neighbours can organize community dinners and block parties to welcome newcomers.

 

 

The Good Neighbour

What is a good neighbour? These days, we tend to think of a good neighbour as someone who keeps their yard trim and tidy, their walks cleared, the noise down after ten, and their beer bottles on their side of the fence (not mine!). But is this really what a good neighbour looks like?

neighbourq

People of Faith most always aspire to some form of good neighbour code. Love of God and neighbour are marks of righteousness. How does that love show itself? We often say it involves: hospitality, generosity, compassion, forgiveness and sacrifice, underscored by a commitment to be there for each other.

In my neighbourhood, I am pleased to know many good neighbours. Certainly, it is not all smooth sailing as relationships never are. But on my street, I am happy to know that if my family or I have a crisis, we have at least five different households who would be there for us in a heartbeat. Taking the kids on short notice; bringing food; grieving with us; saying prayers for us; coming to visit us in the hospital. And of course all the little things: borrowing their lawn-mower, or a few eggs. I’ve even had one of my eighty-year-old neighbours bring his snowblower and clean my sidewalk after a heavy snowfall!

Opening my door to my neighbour continues to be a source of incredible treasure. Along the way, my wife and I have had the opportunity to share life with single parents caring for their kids; seniors grappling with the demands of age; with families for whom money is always an issue, and who need help occasionally in getting to appointments or talking to their social worker; and people grieving significant loss or battling mental illness. Our door is open to our neighbours, and in return, their door is open to us. When we are there for them, they are there for us!

In the last few years, I was privileged to be part of one very powerful neighbour story. A family with small kids was going to lose their home only two weeks before one family member was to undergo treatments for a serious cancer diagnosis. In response to this need, our neighbours and my church community together raised around $3000 to get them caught up on their rent, and helped negotiate a renewed lease for another year. It gave them time and space to heal!neighbour6

Recently, several local households celebrated thanksgiving together as many didn’t have family close by. We ate turkey, stuffing, Asian noodle dishes and springrolls, Kenyan flatbread, trifle…yum!   So this neighbouring thing… Give it a go!

By Mike Van Boom, from Edmonton’s McCauley Neighbourhood

 

I Need Help! Who Do I Call?

Whether this is you, someone you know, or a neighbour battling in the cold; here are a few key resources to help you get help.

If this is an emergency, call 911!

If you see someone in distress, and you are concerned their life may be threatened in any way, don’t mess around; call 911 Emergency to summon immediate help.

If this is not an emergency, and someone’s life is not visibly threatened, call 211!

This service is able to mobilize many different kinds of responses, including the 24/7 Crisis response teams, which can help someone in a non-emergency situation.  The 211 service is also able to connect or refer you to places that will be able to provide help.

If you need more long-term help for yourself or a neighbour and don’t know where to go, here is a resource with good information on different frontline service providers.

The Winter Emergency Response Guide 2016/2017   winter-emergency-response-resource-guide-2016-17-final-d

It explains what services are provided, hours of operation, contact information, etc.  These places provide everything from simple shelter from the cold or a safe place to sleep, to helps with identification, doing taxes and finding housing.

Finding Home at Ottewell Manor

“…these are just normal people who want what anyone else would want: a good quality of life.”

Kim Ruzycki remembers her first visit to Ottewell Manor. She recalls touring the building, walking through the dining room and seeing all the rooms in the building that she and her neighbours would be living in. She had spent the previous year living at Rosary Hall and many of her neighbours there were also making the switch to Ottewell Manor, so she wasn’t nervous about moving. In fact, as she settled into her new home, she was surprised by what her living conditions were like.Ottewell Manor

“We can make all of our own decisions and do things for ourselves,” Ruzycki says. “But there is a strong support system here.”

Ruzycki is one of 38 residents currently living in Ottewell Manor. And like all the residents at Ottewell Manor, she’s living with conditions that would make living completely independently almost impossible. Residents at Ottewell Manor live with a range of different conditions from depression and anxiety to bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia.

Ottewell Manor was built in 1962 and was a seniors lodge for many years. In 2010, negotiations between Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the Greater Edmonton Foundation Seniors Housing (GEF Seniors Housing) began with the intention of dedicating Ottewell Manor strictly for seniors struggling with mental health conditions. In May of 2012, Ottewell Manor’s first new residents started moving in.

“None of us had any background in mental health before Ottewell Manor opened,” explains Shelley Fox, Assistant Manager with GEF Seniors Housing who spends the majority of her time overseeing the operations of Ottewell Manor. “We received some training from AHS before we opened, but we also set some clear guidelines in our agreement as to where the mental health support would be coming from.”

GEF Seniors Housing’s partnership with AHS focuses on the operations and support for its residents. Therapists, case workers, and even some homecare providers work directly with GEF Seniors Housing to ensure that everyone living in Ottewell Manor is receiving the mental health support that they need.

“AHS are the experts in mental health, we know and respect that and we wouldn’t want to try and replace that,” says Lisa Bereziuk, Manager of the larger Ottewell portfolio of buildings for GEF Seniors Housing. “What we as supportive living are doing is ensuring that the other side of that quality of life equation is being met. We’re making sure that the food we serve is of the best quality, the recreation options are things our residents are interested in, that the building is clean and well taken care of, and that the day to day of living here is the best it can possibly be.”

Like all GEF Seniors Housing supportive living sites, Ottewell Manor features a full commercial kitchen with a Red Seal chef on staff, a designated recreation coordinator setting up programs for the residents, and the freedom for the residents to choose what they want to take part in.

Both Fox and Bereziuk attribute a large part of Ottewell Manor’s success to the open communication they continue to have with their partners in AHS. With each organizations’ roles so clearly defined, there’s very rarely any disconnect between them, and that helps keep the operations in Ottewell Manor running smoothly and ensures that all the residents have a great quality of life.

“Hospital visits are considerably down for our residents, and most of the time you can’t even tell our residents are living with any sort of condition,” says Fox. “The work being done here is helping a lot with breaking the current stigma around mental health. Even within GEF Seniors Housing, new staff will be hired and not realize what Ottewell Manor does and they’ll be visibly uncomfortable about it until they actually visit Ottewell Manor and see how wrong their misconceptions were. That these are just normal people who want what anyone else would want: a good quality of life.”

What’s most important for Fox and Bereziuk every day is that the residents are happy with where they live. And they get to see their efforts help people with everything from just getting comfortable with where they’re living to helping with larger issues such as hoarding. The residents often show their appreciation for what the staff with GEF Seniors Housing does for them; some a little more vibrantly than others.

“There was one resident who became especially attached to the Ottewell portfolio’s previous manager Susan Scott and during our opening this resident actually hugged [Scott] so hard that she needed to see a chiropractor afterward,” says Bereziuk with a laugh. “But I think that resident expressed what a lot of the other residents were feeling that day and still continue to feel. And when we see our residents express that level of happiness, we know we’re doing a good job at giving them a good quality of life.”

Article and accompanying photo provided compliments of GEF Senior’s Housing.

 

Affordable Housing Edmonton

In recent months, the City of Edmonton launched an information campaign to help people understand what affordable housing is, why it is so needed here in Edmonton, and why we all benefit from living in diverse neighbourhoods.

 

Access the campaign by visiting their website:  http://www.affordablehousingedmonton.ca